We went along to a meeting in the Salvation Army hall in Glenrothes last Tuesday, the meeting was about the intended closures of 16 libraries in Fife. I was quite amazed at the turn out, there were over 100 people there, much more than the organisers had hoped for. The very definitely ‘not bad’ author James Robertson spoke of what libraries mean to him. If you haven’t already read his books – you should.
There’s real anger amongst locals, especially when we realised that as usual the council has a completely different idea of the word ‘consultation’. In their dictionary it means ‘cut and dried’ or fait accompli if you want to be cosmopolitan about it. There’s always more than a hint of The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy about these so-called consultations in my past experience. All of the community councils are closed over the summer and their next meetings are scheduled to take place after the ‘consultation’ period. Mobile libraries have been suggested as replacements for areas where libraries are to be closed. However they are also planning to get rid of one of the three mobile libraries which Fife own, so how the remaining two are supposed to cope with the extra work I have no idea.
I was vaguely aware of the words Cultural Trust being used in recent times but I didn’t really realise what it was. It seems to me that Fife Council have handed over the running of the libraries to this third party as a way of dodging the flak when cut backs are mooted. They can wash their hands of the whole thing and say – it’s nothing to do with us, it’s the Cultural Trust who say these places must be closed.
To add insult to injury it transpires that the paltry sum of £21 per head of population in Fife is all that is being spent on library funding at the moment. Considering the service given by the local libraries that’s what I call an absolute bargain already. How anyone can think of spending even less on what is an essential service is beyond me.
It seems that borrower numbers have been looked at and the powers that be have come to the conclusion that the libraries under threat of closure are not worth the cost of keeping open. In these days of austerity with huge unemployment in Fife, society can’t afford NOT to keep libraries open. It’s as if the people who have made the decision to close libraries have no idea themselves of the roles which a modern library fulfills.
Apart from the computers which are vital for people who can’t afford one of their own, there are also job clubs which meet in the libraries, a vital link for people desperately trying to find work. Those people may never borrow books so they don’t appear on any borrowing statistics but they need the libraries more than anyone.
Modern society can be a lonely place for a lot of people, the elderly in particular and the libraries are lifelines for people who might never speak to a living soul otherwise.
In another place and time I worked in a large county library, one of the many Andrew Carnegie libraries, a large Victorian building which had been designed to accommodate a large reading room. In the winter time I would say that half of the reading room users were people coming in to get out of the cold, and who would grudge them that? Not me anyway. I suspect the same is true now, especially among the unemployed and disabled.
The extra pressure which would be put on to the remaining libraries would be intolerable if any libraries were closed, the library in Glenrothes town centre is very small and the computers are always all occupied, there must be some sort of time limit to people’s use of them. There’ll be queues of people waiting to get on to a computer.
Many of the libraries under threat are in village locations, places which already have very little in the way of amenities. Women are often stuck there with no way of travelling elsewhere as public transport is dire/non existent or very expensive, especially if they are having to take children on buses to visit a library.
As it happens I’m reading George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier at the moment, written in 1934 he mentions using the libraries, and despite living conditions and life in general being dire for the ordinary working person, there was no mention of libaries being closed down. They obviously had more sense back then.
If you want to help with the campaign to keep the 16 threatened libraries open, please sign the petition.