Wednesday 11 February 2015

Rally for the Library of Birmingham 7/2/15 #rally4LOB #NLD15

On National Libraries Day, 7/2/15, I spoke, on behalf of Voices for the Library, at a rally organised by the Friends of the Library of Birmingham (FOLB). The rally was held outside the LOB and although it didn't attract the numbers expected or hoped for it was a very well organised event with some great speakers and performers including poet laureates, trade unionists, authors, users/activists/campaigners and academics. All in all a very inspirational afternoon.

Here's the text of my speech;

First of all i'd like to thank FOLB and the other organisers for inviting me to speak today.
My name is Alan Wylie, i'm a public library worker, library campaigner and Unison member. I'm here today representing Voices for the Library, a national organisation advocating for public libraries and library staff.

Recently i wrote an article for the Guardian in which I outlined the crucial role that libraries play in promoting literacy and the enjoyment of reading and the hugely beneficial effect all this and more has on the wellbeing of local communities and society as a whole.

The National Literacy Trust says there's overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship to people's life chances. And I quote;
"A person with poor literacy is more likely to live in a non-working household, live in overcrowded housing and is less likely to vote. Literacy skills and a love of reading can break this vicious cycle of deprivation and disadvantage."

We also know that libraries play an important part in helping to;
bridge the digital divide,
Promote democratic involvement & social equity
And foster community empowerment & resilience

In 2013-2014 there were
230 million visits to libraries,
95 million visits to library websites,
34 million enquiries
and 200 million books and other items borrowed from libraries in England.

Surely this is proof that properly resourced libraries and trained library staff are needed now more than ever.

But and it’s a big but all this great work is taking place in a time of savage cuts, nationally since 2007/8;

·         6000 library staff culled
·         Several hundred libraries closed or taken out of public control
·         12% of all public libraries now volunteer-led, 5% of these cast adrift
·         Library opening hrs and budgets slashed

Politicians and councillors need to start seeing cuts to libraries as a false economy: the cuts are easy to make but the long-term consequences could be disastrous.

Politicians and councillors need to develop and promote the key educational and information role libraries have, More joined-up thinking is needed in local authorities and central government departments; for example when drawing up a poverty reduction or education strategy, why not involve the library service? Stronger links should also be made with local schools and further & higher education establishments.
Councils and policymakers need to conduct more research and evaluation into the social impact of libraries, as opposed to just relying on footfall, issue and economic data which is seen by many to be a poor indication of their true value.

It's claimed that many local councillors, and maybe MP’s, don't own a library card, or if they do they haven't used it in years. If this is the case, then today is a great day to start.
This might even, hopefully, influence them when making the next cut or writing the next strategy document.

Naomi Klein, the American writer and activist, in a speech she gave to the American Library Association in 2003 said that libraries and library staff are, or should be, at the forefront of protecting and promoting certain crucial values, and these are;

- Knowledge (as opposed to mere information gathering)
- Public Space (as opposed to commercial or private space)
- and Sharing (as opposed to buying and selling).

 She also said;

The best way to stay public is for library staff to be public - truly, defiantly, radically public.
It's our suit of armour and we should wear it with pride.

Unfortunately those responsible for the LOB seem to have forgotten about these key principles.
They also seem to have forgotten about local communities in Birmingham who rely heavily on the branch libraries that act as a lifeline to the poorest and most isolated of our fellow citizens.

It’s a an absolute disgrace that Birmingham City Council are proposing to cut the LOB budget by £3.3m over the next 2 years,
·         slashing the opening hrs by 40%,
·         cutting 100 staff,
·         drastically reducing outreach, housebound and the branch network
·         restricting access to the archives and special collections

Birmingham has invested £188 million in this library & but it’s costing £22m per year to run, £12m of that just in debt charges.

There has been talk of a mock mutual and of the BL stepping in but who knows what the future might bring? I've also read recently that the Institute of Directors have moved in, what can i say?

The whole thing is a bloody mess and I commend the FOLB and other campaigners for highlighting these concerns and demanding transparency and accountability from those responsible.

So what can we do individually and collectively to make our voices heard?

we can and we must back the campaign being led by the FOLB and other anti-cuts groups in Birmingham.

We can use our libraries more and support the staff.

We can lobby our councillors and mp’s

We can write to the local and national newspapers

We can start up friends and campaign groups and link them locally with trade unions and other community activists and nationally with organisations such as the Library Campaign, Voices for the Library and Speak up for Libraries.

We can ask our councillors and MP’s to sign up to the Speak up for Libraries Manifesto.

But most of all we need to oppose every library cut and campaign, march and protest together, a united front.

Thanks for listening and keep up the fight.

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