Last Saturday I was privileged to be invited to attend the Speak Up for Libraries conference in London and joined the delegates to discuss how we can ensure the continued provision of local libraries and make certain the government – whichever party gains power at the next election – supports our highly valued library network.
Professional library staff from all over the country were in attendance and able to put their concerns to a panel of MPs and party representatives. In fact, there was Helen Goodman MP from Labour, Justin Tomlinson MP of the Conservative Party and Martin Frances from the Green Party.
I am not sure what happened to the Liberal Democrats and although UKIP were invited apparently they declined admitting that they have no policy on libraries!
As an observer from the Mature Times and on behalf of the many readers who contacted us to confirm the importance their local library, I was heartened to hear how determined and committed to the service all the delegates were.
I had the chance to speak to many of the leaders of the various action groups and to pass on our support.
It was a mild rainy day in London and the conference room was hot and stuffy, but the atmosphere was even more heated by the questions coming from librarians who would not be told to “Shush”.
Swept along by the conviction and passion for their jobs the professional library staff did not hold back from demanding answers from the panel. At times it must have seemed more like a debate in the House of Commons, but with more intelligent questions and arguments.
But away from all the politics and posturing a very real and urgent problem is facing our local libraries and with cuts in funding from local authorities and councils being forced to prioritise their services the battle for libraries must be joined by all of us who use them and for the sake of future generations.
Libraries are so much more than just a place to borrow a book or read a newspaper. With most of government form filling now to be done online, it is vital that the public have access to computers and the internet. The library not only provides the equipment but staff are required to help people use it and to guide and teach them.
Under the Public Libraries and Museums Act of 1964 the Secretary of State is required to superintend library services, but appears to be failing badly in his duty as so many local libraries are being closed, or run by unqualified staff. There are national standard in place for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but strangely none for England. That needs sorting immediately as well as funding to be allocated to keep up the standards.
The Speak Up for Libraries campaign is asking the public to contact their MPs and local authorities. With a general election looming it is the right time to be campaigning for what is a public right to have access to services provided by libraries.
I am passionate about libraries and I know so many of you feel the same. After all most you collect your Mature Times from them across the UK.
So let’s add our voices to the campaign and speak up for libraries now before it’s too late!
by Tina Foster, deputy editor