Where’s a place where adults can let children escape without fear? Somewhere you can go to visit faraway places and need no ticket? Open your mind and not your wallet? The answer; libraries. The opportunities they offer for people of all ages should not be underestimated. And that is why the government pressure to close them down is a blow people should not have to suffer. For example, pressure on Lancashire County council to save £65million over the next two years is expected to see the county's 74 libraries cut to just 34. You can take action to show that this not acceptable – support your local library and the opportunities it upholds.
Libraries are saviors in themselves, not a vehicle for ‘savings’. Yet It appears that local authorities in are turning to libraries as one the first places to cut costs. This is almost ironic considering libraries are the places so many other people in society turn to, but for good reason– not just for borrowing books, but as a safe public space, a place of solace, an opportunity to interact, to be inquisitive and to learn. Councils and the government often refer to the importance of ‘community cohesion’ especially at times of difficulty, but to close libraries is actually to destroy a dear community in itself. But will attention be paid to this?
Lancashire County Council has announced that it is set to go ahead with library closures in order to save money, saying that statutory obligations would be met if in every district council area 1 library was kept open; the rest could be potentially up for closure. Cutting back on the library network in this drastic way could be seen to actually evade obligation - obligation to the people. The potential loss of these libraries is a terrible thing to us all. Firstly, think of the resources they offer. Our libraries not only provide books, but a wide range of interactive material including CD’s, DVD’s, archives and even sheet music. This is the first kind of opportunity the library offers; the opportunity you can take home. You have the potential of portable worlds; novels which will take you to America, films which reveal a whole new side to life. Discovery even within the domestic space is made possible by a library; people unlock new skills they can use in their lives, access self-help books and make a real difference. And because many of these materials are free or of much lower cost than in the shops, this makes it more accessible. Open to all.
Therefore, not only can you take opportunity home, but the second kind of opportunity a library offers, is the opportunity of home. What is meant by this? A library is a place for people, certainly not just for print! A second home, so to speak! It is one of the few buildings in society through which all people can enter, regardless of income, and be provided with positivity. It’s a hospital for hope (Plus you can even get ‘books on prescription!’). Old and young alike are given the chance to interact in a safe, secure environment – learning about others, as well as new things. And if books are not your interest, then there are likely to be community groups, parent-and-toddler meetings, interest societies and so-on that you can get involved in, all at your local library.
The maths - Banishing books in order to balance the books does not add up
Another place where it doesn’t add up is in terms of how it affects children. 2015 has drawn attention to the shocking statistics that more than 62,000 primary pupils across the country failed to reach the expected Level 4 in reading tests, suggesting that many young people are struggling with – and are likely disengaged – from reading. To cut libraries is only set to disengage children further. The library, as I said earlier, is in effect a hospital for hope. It provides a safe, non-pressuring environment which could be highly constructive at addressing the issue of child reading. Yet cutting libraries is at risk of sending young people the message that reading and knowledge is disposable – a terrible concept.
And libraries do play an important financial role too. They provide an open, non-judgmental place where people have opportunities to engage with skills and employment. For example there are sessions helping people with job applications hosted at Burnley library (one of many), and the computers there pay a big role in helping people engage with the modern application systems – especially if they do not have such technology at home. It’s often under-discussed, but libraries can stimulate local economies. For example, they often provide resources too which people can use to find out more about public transport and travel passes; encouraging interaction with local services.
Let’s not forget the history either
Our local have their own fascinating histories too – but should not be confined to it! For example, my local area of Lancashire is Rossendale, and I have become well-acquainted over the years with Rawtenstall library and its Victorian community history room. This place really does uphold the concept that preserving the past can inspire the future. Not only have I met and enjoyed the company of many people in this area, but seen posters advertising family activities, community drop ins, the list goes on. Yes, the role of the library in Britain certainly has a past to it, but is not in the past. Most libraries contain numerous computers for public use; so people can get to grips with technology too. Multiple windows to the world are opened; so the thought that instead multiple libraries could be at risk in Lancashire(with those serving the Rossendale council district; Rawtenstall, Crawshawbooth, Haslingden, Whitworth and Bacup all at potential risk) is like putting a shutter against shared discovery.
And even more shutters seem to be up around Lancashire County Council – certainly undergoing a dark time. Between 2011 and 2020 it is estimatedthat the council is required to make savingsof £685 million – with the risk so much of culture being crushed as part of that. For these are times where places, even community spaces, can seem just like percentage to councils wanting to balance the books. That’s why it’s essential that we express our personal pride and for the great Lancashire libraries. They have figures standing for them; are not just figures on a cost sheet. By showing our support, using the service and even getting involved in volunteering, let’s keep the life going. The Library Campaign helps support users of libraries, whilst many local newspapers, such as The Rossendale Free Press have set up petitions to save these important places. There is also a petition on Change.org.
Get involved in any way you can. The loss of libraries is a loss to us all.