I was recently asked by a local librarian to do all I could to help save five Lambeth libraries, and – just as importantly – the jobs of the librarians who work in them.
If, after reading this, you’d like to contact Councillor Jane Edbrooke, her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Councillor Jane Edbrooke,
why shouldn’t you close libraries?
I recently did an interview with Neil Gaiman about just this. Here’s what I found the most persuasive thing he said:
‘For me, closing libraries is the equivalent of eating your seed corn to save a little money.’
I realise that you and the other Lambeth Councillors find yourselves, not out of choice, in an almost impossible position.
The government’s austerity agenda is forcing cuts upon all councils. You have to choose what will do least harm to the community that elected you, and also what will have the least negative effect upon how you and your party are perceived.
However, you also have a greater responsibility for the long-term future of Lambeth.
And I think it almost certain that this future will be very seriously undermined by the closure of half the borough’s libraries, and the laying off of the librarians that run them.
Yes, you will save a little money.
Yes, you will eat the seed corn.
The people who will use the privatised spaces with which you propose to replace the libraries are already well served. They do not need new gyms – they may find these new gyms quite convenient, but they will not find them life-changing.
By closing libraries and sacking librarians, you close the door forever not just on some books on shelves. For many people, you effectively shut them out of society. You shut them off from a safe place to study, from access to legal advice, from the chance to improve their knowledge and skills.
For some children, you shut them out of a place where society seems to be giving them something for free because it’s on their side, you shut them out of world of fact and imagination, you shut them out of Hogwarts, Narnia, Middle Earth – you may also be shutting them out of college and university.
I don’t believe you want to do that.
I believe you can choose not to do that.
On the Lambeth website, you are described as being responsible for ‘Making libraries the heart of the community by planning for their future sustainability’.
I believe you can, if you want, do that.
If you’d like to read the whole Neil Gaiman interview, it’s here on the Guardian website.
Update: On November 3rd, I received this reply from Cll Edbrooke:
Thank you for your email Toby,
I’ve written a blog which tackles these issues. http://www.lambeth-labour.org.uk/culture_2020 . I hope it goes some way towards explaining that there are almost no cuts to services in Local Government which doesn’t meet your analogy of eating seed – from Domestic Violence support to get women out of abusive relationships, the community sports team working with residents from GP referrals who are at risk of diabetes and heart disease to children’s services to tackle early intervention with at risk and troubled families, trying to keep children with their families and improve their life chances and the jobs team who support long term unemployed into work and promote apprenticeships. Local Government is important – and that’s why I care so much about it. The government fundamentally does not share this view.
Like you we’re appalled that Lambeth council has lost 50% of its funding from Local Government. We think this is short sighted and unfair.
It’s particularly unfair as the poorest areas have been hit the hardest. The Independent published an article on how the most deprived councils have lost the most funding: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/most-deprived-english-councils-suffer-biggest-cuts-in-spending-power-10045665.html
We have to make another £90m of cuts by 2018. We’ve already had to make £110m. And now we are expecting even more the Autumn statement. This is devastating for our communities and residents.
Local government as we know it will be radically changed by 2018 – with Lambeth funding mainly focused on very vulnerable adults and children, directly supporting these high need individuals. We will struggle to deliver universal services; we’ve already seen an impact on street cleansing. We had hoped the general election might change this future, but we now know we have a Tory government until 2020.
Cllr Jane Edbrooke