We’ve got five years..!

save our library

It’s something of an understatement to say that the results of the general election were  disappointing, not just on a personal level but also for what it means for libraries. It’s difficult not to be despondent over the ramifications, which are outlined by Ian Anstice on Public Library News, with the headlines being:

  • Continuing deep cuts to budgets and increasing co-location
  • Off-loading more libraries to volunteers or closure
  • The removal of paid staff, continuing deprofessionalisation, and increasing anxiety about job security
  • Reducing the ability to mount legal challenges and continuing non-intervention by the culture minister
  • Continuing reduction of mobile services

This, unfortunately will be the new realism of the next five years and I believe Ian’s analysis will prove to be depressingly accurate. What we will see now is the re-invigoration of Big Society principles, underpinned by Localism, which will transform the whole public library landscape. The Conservatives are ideologically driven by the desire for a smaller state, less direct government intervention, and reduced public services delivered increasingly by third sector, voluntary organisations, and the private sector.

Libraries will continue to be, along with other public services, hostages to such ideology with little in the way to restrain the inevitable outcome and decline. I have no doubt that public libraries will continue to exist in the future but in a form that is radically different to that of 10 or even 5 years ago in terms of delivery and funding. Whether they will remain comprehensive and efficient in their new form will be open to intense debate.

For many campaigners therefore the battle to protect libraries continues but perhaps there needs to be a period of reflection and consolidation in order to formulate, if possible, a unified national strategy to resist the coming changes. I am not directly involved with the Library Campaign, Speak Up For Libraries, or Voices for the Library but it seems to me that these organsiations would be best placed to begin such a conversation.

Unfortunately, campaigns of the past five years have had only limited success. To be more effective in the future library protest needs to evolve and align with different local and national campaigns, over hospitals, education, tax avoidance etc. There is strength in unity but too many campaigns for libraries have acted in isolation. Such insularity will be even less effective in the face of rampant Tory ideology. It’s not just public libraries but all those in the public sector; schools, colleges, university, and NHS libraries that will be under threat.

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity have organised a mass protest in London on June 20th. It would be an empowering gesture if there were a large library contingent there made up of campaigners, organisations – dare I hope for Cilip input – save library groups, staff, and of course library users. Not just speaking up for libraries but shouting out for them.

What has become increasingly obvious is that it’s difficult to campaign for libraries without appreciating what is happening to public services overall. When I first started this blog it was in response to a very narrow debate within Cilip over a name change. It quickly morphed into advocating for libraries and library staff as reductions and closures increased in pace. But against this background was always the hope that the coalition would be ousted and a slow recovery could begin. That hope has been well and truly dashed.

After the election David Cameron announced his aim was “…to govern on the basis of governing for everyone in our United Kingdom” under the mantle of ‘One Nation’. Almost immediately we found out what sort of ‘one nation’ he meant with massive welfare cuts, attacks on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, scrapping the human rights act, destroying workers rights, and more damaging austerity measures.

But we are not ‘One Nation’ and many of us do not agree with the vision Cameron offers. This government does not represent the majority. It is the result of an archaic and increasingly undemocratic voting system in which the Conservatives are governing with only 24% of the vote. This is not a mandate.

Thus, the fight for libraries is also the fight for public services and changing the system so that it works for everyone not just an elite. The downside of the election is we have five more years of Tory government, the upside is we have five years to fight for real and lasting change.

What sort of library service will remain in five years is of real concern but sadly only time will tell.

9 thoughts on “We’ve got five years..!”

  1. “And with that thought I have decided that now is a natural stopping point and this will be my last post on Leon’s Library Blog.”

    Reasons not to:
    Alan Gibbons’s debate with Ed Vaizey – imminent.
    Maurice Nauta’s letter to Sec of State re. Lincolnshire Libraries – Decision pending
    Legal action v. DCMS – contemplated
    Scarcity of commentary by any Library professionals, now to be reduced by one.

    It seems to be a jolly peculiar time for you to retreat and I cannot say that I welcome it.


    1. Not retreating just moving on to campaign differently. Library campaigns must become part of a bigger protest movement if they are to have any impact particularly in the face of new govt. I will still be campaigning for libs but in a different guise ☺


  2. I want to convince any who are sorely tempted to shoot off in other directions to remain focused on Public Libraries, in spite of whether or not they find Leon’s decision to “campaign in a different guise” persuasive.

    The DCMS brigade will be DELIGHTED if campaigners and advocates fragment & if some leading players switch to a generic, anti-austerity platform. Libraries are used and needed by all people. They are *inclusive* – that’s is the whole point of them. The issues have NOT suddenly changed.

    I am not arguing this sufficiently eloquently, but feel strongly that “joining a bigger protest movement” is a soft option at a time when library jobs must be fought for, quality library services fought for and people’s access to local libraries fought for. Individuals can combine this with a commitment to anti-austerity, *in addition*, if they so wish. But I urge them NOT to slope off or take their eyes off the ball. That’s, to my mind, a recipe for disaster and plays directly into the hands of those intent on Library destruction.


    1. I agree Shirley.

      My concern is also that linking the decimation of our public libraries with the Conservatives’ austerity agenda just places the blame firmly with the Tories, which they will refute, and allow Labour councils to just shrug their shoulders – It’s the situation foisted upon us. Nothing to do with us.

      Councils will be only too delighted to pass the buck and blame central government.

      Making the campaign political may also lead to alienating some who oppose the cuts but disagree with the political views of a campaign.

      Let’s keep the focus clearly on libraries.

      The Library Campaign is always looking for people willing to help or to become Trustees of the charity, Leon/

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Alan Gibbons has just mailed me. He’s away from his desk, so has asked me to log this comment on his behalf:


    “The libraries’ campaign can’t be divorced from the overall austerity debate, but we have succeeded in mobilising people and putting libraries in the centre of public debate in a way that is out of proportion with the social weight of the library sector in public service. Many other services have had none of the debates, petitioning, demonstrations and lobbies. In other words, by being principled and single-minded, we have pressed the library case in extremely difficult circumstances and that has helped open up discussions on austerity too. Of course, our successes have been dwarfed by the problem that, in the absence of industrial action, most of our campaigning has fallen on deaf ears. We must keep hammering away at the libraries’ issue.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Another great blog and totally agree with you that some sort of collaboration between the various campaigns would have a much greater effect. Unfortunately I’m unable to be at the protest on 20th June as I’m away in Gloucester at a long-standing birthday celebration for a friend. Sorry to see the close of Leon’s Library Blog too … Barbara Date: Wed, 13 May 2015 05:47:31 +0000 To: barbara567band@hotmail.com


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