In the coming struggle against the cuts - cuts that are aimed, laser-guided and with industrial precision at those on the bottom of the economic and social pile - it is important not to single out a single service for protection above others… that being said, I want to talk here about Libraries.
For the sake of transparency, I must divulge that I have worked in 2 libraries – a community library and a University library – and have been, and am actively seeking to get another position in a library… there is also a darker side to my involvement with libraries; I consistently fail to return books on time, and have even lost books. So I’m not perfect… and what is worse, I’m not even a big reader…
I’m not sure what cuts libraries will have to face, and I’m not sure where to look to find out the figures, but given that I have been looking for work in libraries, and my interest in preserving and improving public services, I can report the following;
I recently went back to the library, intending to pay a huge outstanding fine and thus renew my account. To my shame, I had neglected the debt for so long that the library had simply cancelled my account, meaning that a) I had got away with not paying a fine that would have probably been way over £50 and b) the local community was deprived of several books and the funds to replace those books. I gave them the £15 pounds in my pocket and accepted my new library card.
I then asked the library worker - who haltingly accepted my ‘donation’ as we agreed to call it – whether the council were looking to employ new library staff. She told me that retiring staff were not being replaced, and so certainly no new staff would be recruited. I then asked if ‘they were treating you all okay?’ whilst making a ‘them upstairs’ gesture… she said they were… I suppose you never can tell who is a ‘mystery shopper’…
Fresh new card in hand, I took myself upstairs to the politics section. I may relate that there is clearly a radical at work in Rotherham Central library for as I approached the shelves it was plain from 10 metres that someone had collected a good number of Chomsky books together and displayed them next to each other for all to see. Awesome.
Now that I was a bona fide library user, and not the debt-encumbered scuttler I had been but moments before, I decided I would take my time and have a good peruse of the shelves; happily, my suspicions about the incumbent Radical Library Activist (not me-swear on the Chomster’s bonce) were confirmed when I noticed ‘Chomsky on Anarchism’ (2 copies) and Rudolf Rocker’s ‘Anarcho-syndicalism; Theory and Practice’…
I picked up the short Rocker work and a recent Chomsky book and bounded merrily to the check-out desk, lest the obvious administrative cock-up were detected and the offending literature and tossed into a memory-hole.
The importance of libraries - as repositories of knowledge; yes, but also as general cultural centres - is becoming obscured by the rise, and alleged superiority of the internet. The internet, fantastic and exciting as it surely is, is only a tool and cannot offer, nor compete with, the hundreds of ancillary functions a library quietly plays. This fallacy may be used in the coming period to justify horrific cuts to cultural services, like libraries, that would amount to a lobotomy for vegetative communities, like Rotherham, comatose from the shock of decades of neglect.
Join your library = good. Use your library = better. Oppose the cuts = vital.