Petition update

Please Read & See link in Update to Help Save Pitshanger Library!

Akuba Quansah
london, ENG, United Kingdom

Jul 27, 2018 — Dear Friends,

I hope you are all well.

You may or may not have received a recent email from me about the proposed closure of one of Ealing’s much-loved libraries, Pitshanger Library, when the 16-year lease comes up for renewal in December 2018. Council leader, Julian Bell, has suggested exploring the idea a less costly "community-led" library which could be situated at nearby St Barnabas Church (https://www.getwestlondon.co.uk/news/west-london-news/ealing-library-set-close-decision-14906711).

A few days ago, a friend went to great pains to explain to me on my Facebook timeline his reason for not wanting to sign the Save Pitshanger Library E Petition; favouring, on this occasion, some kind of community intervention with volunteers possibly working in partnership with a library professional to keep the library service going.

In order to respond I found myself doing a little background research. So here it is, if you can bear reading this extended account….

“Councils actually have a statutory duty to provide quality public library services, as stipulated in the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. As Nick Poole (Cilip) points out, libraries are neither discretionary nor a luxury and everyone has a right to access them.

Since the start of austerity measures in 2010, there are 650 fewer libraries in the UK than in 2009/10, at least 10,000 library workers have lost their jobs, and we now have 500 volunteer-run ‘libraries’, with volunteers outnumbering paid staff in public libraries (CIPFA- the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, December 2017). This is an indictment! It’s not as though the UK is in a privileged position to be able to close down its libraries up and down the country. The contrary is the case, and precisely, bestselling novelist Joanna Trollope’s point. With the UK ranked near the bottom in the developed world for literacy of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) basic skills survey (January 20160, “it is in absolutely no position to dare to close one single public library,” (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/13/joanna-trollope-uk-not-afford-close-one-single-public-library). And yet our Councils continue to go do so while successive Libraries Ministers in the main fail to intervene!

This is why a group of literary figures, including Joanna Trollope, award-winning novelists Neil Gaiman and Ali Smith, and the former poet laureate, Andrew Motion, all supported the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals’ (Cilip), campaign, ‘My Library By Right’, which was launched in December 2016 to hold the government to account for failing to keep libraries open.

Faced with the risk of closure, it’s not difficult to understand why some library lovers see community libraries as a viable ‘solution’. However, the problem is that the increase in volunteer-led libraries disguises the seriousness of how far our library services are declining in the UK. It kind of lets councils off the hook and detracts them from their statutory duty. This is stipulated by Ian Anstice (2016; http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com/). It makes austerity more palatable to live with.

Granted, up and down the country, from Barnet to Warwickshire, libraries are being run by volunteers and they do a great job. As the Department of Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) states, “while they [volunteers] are not a substitute for the paid workforce, they bring an additional wealth of skills, experience and commitment to local libraries.”

The flip side is that when councils see community libraries running well and are making budget cuts, they simply shift their mandatory responsibilities and hand over even more libraries to communities (Ian Anstice 2016). It’s totally wrong that the public should feel pressured into volunteering in order to keep their library open. I’m totally behind Cilip for campaigning for the government to “fulfil their statutory responsibilities to taxpayers” to provide a quality public library service. Like DCMS, Cilip is very clear that volunteers are not a replacement for paid professionals.

Another point is that the reliance of volunteer-led libraries propagates the false belief that a librarian is not a profession. Mandy Powell (Cilip) reminds us that “even with volunteers working alongside library staff, there are issues. The majority of people are doing it with the best will in the world, but they are not necessarily equal to the job.” (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/08/public-libraries-at-the-crossroads-should-volunteers-be-keeping-them-open).

In England we still do not have a ‘Public Library Standards’ but we do have yet another Libraries Minister who will not intervene to stop the cuts and closures and to enforce the 1964 Act. To my knowledge, when Andy Burnham was Minster of Culture in 2009, he changed his mind to intervene in the 11th hour to save 11 libraries in Wirral from closure.

Right now, we have Labour councils like Ealing, Lambeth, Lewisham & Sheffield that have been slashing, closing, outsourcing and/or handing libraries over to volunteers. The best we can hope for, as Alan Wylie asserts, is that we will one day have a Labour government, led by Jeremy Corbyn, who will ensure that a national policy is properly adopted and adhered to, which can then be applied “to whip these and other councils into line and commit to upholding and strengthening the statutory basis of public libraries,” (https://www.opendemocracy.net/author/alan-wylie). I agree with Wylie, only then do we stand a chance of undoing and halting the damage!!!”

My response to my friend surprisingly prompted him to change his position. You may or may not agree with my conclusions about the best way forward to help save our public libraries, but I hope to have convinced you that your signature is urgently needed for the E petition below. If “yes”, please click on this link below to sign the Petition (started up by more passionate library-lovers) on the Ealing Council’s web site:
http://ealing.cmis.uk.com/ealing/ePetitions/tabid/96/Sign/61/Sign-SAVE-PITSHANGER-LIBRARY.aspx
Please feel free to share

Thank you in advance for your support.

Grace


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