Saturday was “Save Libraries Day”. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go to my public library and borrow all the books I could as we spent the weekend visiting my parents. (The result of which is that our nice new shiny car is now not so shiny and covered in mud!)
I think it is great that this event got so much publicity and public involvement, as it does seem to have really raised the profile of the issue and shows how much people care about their local library service. My problem with the way it has been done though is that it reinforces the stereotype that libraries are about books. They’re not, they’re about access to information regardless of the format it is in. Books are (or certainly have been historically) the most commonly used library resource, but they aren’t the point of libraries.
By focussing the protest on the books I worry that this trivialises the issue for many politicians who don’t understand the societal need that libraries fulfill. They can easily afford books to read and don’t understand that there are many who can’t. And by looking only at the book lending they miss the other support that’s offered by the Library to those who are disadvantaged – help & guidance to them to find out what’s going on it the locality; information about benefits & claiming them; introduction to computers and the internet (which is increasingly where the government are putting information that’s needed to use various services); etc etc. How can we re-frame the debate about the libraries cuts to move the focus off books and onto the other (more valuable) services that they offer?
The other side of this discussion is skills. How can we emphasise the importance of our professional skills?What value is added to the public by libraries being staffed by professional librarians? There is a lot of outrage at the idea of libraries being staffed by volunteers, but no-one (that I’ve seen anyway) has really shown what difference it would make. For government and councils to change there plans there needs to be more than just a public outcry, there needs to be an explanation of the implications for different groups of the public.
How many answers could there be to the statement “If there were no more public libraries then…”?
This is what I think is needed, backed up by facts and data to show the value of the services that are offered by public libraries to all types of users and communities.
Libraries aren’t just about books and so our response has to be wider than just books.