Voices for the Library and National Save Our Libraries Day

Save our Libraries (c/o CILIP).

Yesterday was quite a crazy day to say the least! Who would have thought back in December when Alan Gibbons first proposed a day of coordinated protest that there would be quite so much coverage of the day in the national media. It was really quite moving and I was really blown away by the huge numbers of people who came out in support of their local library. It reinforced for me, once more, just how important libraries are to their local communities. After reading so many anti-library comments on various online articles, one begins to imagine that library support had ebbed away to virtually nil. In fact, it appears the very opposite was true. There’s so much to say about the day and the events leading up to it, but you’ll have to excuse me if I focus on my own story leading up to yesterday’s events.

Voices for the Library - Speaking up for librarians, library staff and library users.

First, a little bit about Voices for the Library. I got involved in this organisation because I wanted to see a group out there presenting libraries and librarians in a new light. Not the sterile old-fashioned image of libraries that so many people fall for and perpetuate. No, I wanted to help show what librarians and libraries contribute to their local communities and the range of services they offer beyond the world of book issues. Books are, and always will be, central to libraries. Despite the growth of the Internet they are the primary information source for the majority of people in this country. But that word ‘information’ is key. Libraries were initially only about books because they were the only form of information delivery. There was a need to ensure that the working classes had the same access to information as the richest in society. Things haven’t changed. 9 million households do not have Internet connections, many due to the expense of the equipment. Libraries now ensure information via books and the Internet to ensure that everyone has equal access to information. This is the reason libraries exist and why they must continue to prosper. The irony is that it is the ‘traditionalists’ who seem to lack the understanding of the true library tradition.

Back to this week and a course of events that will live long in the memory. Whilst Kent is not currently facing library closures (at least not publicly), there will be a consultation launched later this year (possibly late February, early March). Consequently, there were no protests or ‘Read-ins’ planned for the county. Despite this, and because of the national picture, my details were passed onto BBC Radio Kent who wanted to interview someone about the situation in Kent and across the UK. As I am the Kent based representative for Voices, I was happy to oblige so agreed to talk to them and explain the concerns that I have about the situation in the county.

The discussion with Radio Kent took two forms. The first was a chat on the telephone with someone at the station asking me a series of questions. At a certain point she informed me that they would be recording my contribution and playing it throughout the day on the news bulletins! I had no idea this would happen until the phone conversation and, as I had no time to prepare, it was a little tricky to get the right message out there. I do writing and stuff not media and talking…I leave that to the awesome Lauren Smith (who, by the way, is an absolute media legend now!). Anyway, come the day , they played numerous extracts from my conversation, including this one:

BBC Radio Kent soundbite

Let’s not dwell on that for too long eh!?

Canterbury Library - currently undergoing refurbishment. Library is currently housed in Pound Lane.

Part II involved a live interview on Pat Marsh’s show at 7am (!) on Saturday. I have to admit to being nervous beforehand but, thanks to a conversation with the aforementioned Ms Smith, I was fairly confident I could get the message out there in my first ever broadcast interview. It was, however, kinda weird to be sitting at the dining table at 7am with a cup of tea and a stack of notes ready to deal with any question is thrown at me. I was amazed at how long the interview seemed to go on for. I thought it was going to be a very short piece but it last around 5 minutes. Sure, that doesn’t sound long, but it is a long time when you are being interviewed for live radio!

I tried very hard not to say ‘um’ and ‘er’ too much and I think I did reasonably ok. There were a few hesitations during the interview, but remember it was 7am! I won’t be challenging my colleagues at VftL for media attention, but it was good to get it under my belt and know that I can (just about) manage again if it’s thrown at me! You can hear the full interview here (recorded for posterity!):

Full Interview on BBC Radio Kent

Once I had done my bit on radio it was simply left for me to go out and visit my local library and take out a whole bunch of books (twelve in actual fact!). I had seen The Guardian’s protest map earlier in the day and seen that Canterbury library scored 5/5 for the strength of the protest and my understanding was that it was absolutely packed. Great news for everyone, and I am sure the councillor responsible for libraries was thrilled that the library service is so popular in Kent as well (even without an ‘official’ event taking place).

However, my job wasn’t quite done there. Earlier in the day I had come across Dr David Kuo who argued, quite seriously, on BBC Breakfast that if Internet provision is such a crucial aspect of the library service then everyone should be given an Internet connection and then we can close the libraries (presumably this idea would be paid for by the government). Thinking I needed to act quickly to put a message out there about how this is pie in the sky, I decided to do some research and produced a statement on behalf of Voices for the Library on this barmy scheme. You can read the full statement here and, if you ever come across Dr David Kuo, maybe throw this in his general direction. Although not literally of course…that might hurt.

A big old stack of library books!

So that pretty much summed up my day. I’m not ashamed to admit that I came close to tears when I saw the strength of support for libraries across the UK (hey, I’m a ‘new man’ type person ok?!). It really was very moving and will live long in my memory. All that is left for me to say is how much I admire and respect not only those who did go out and do something, I am also very proud to be working alongside a great bunch of people at Voices for the Library. Their dedication, hard-work, cheeriness in the face of adversity, integrity and all-round awesomeness make every day working with them an absolute pleasure. I feel so lucky to be associated with such people, each and every one of them are absolutely phenomenal – Bethan, Simon, Tom, Mick, Lauren, Gary, Alice and Ian (Version 2.0). I’m so glad I got involved in Voices for the Library when I did and I look forward to seeing it continue to prosper and grow over the coming years, getting the message out there about why libraries and librarians are so important.

Actually, what am I saying, that isn’t all I have left to say! I would also like to add that if you live in Kent and are concerned about what the future holds for libraries in the county, please get in touch (see the contact tab at the top of this page). If you want to set up a campaign, do get in touch and I will help you set up a blog, Facebook Page and Twitter account to get things started. I will also act as a link between a local campaign and Voices for the Library to help promote the campaign and link up with others around the country. If that interests you, do make sure you drop me a line. Thanks.

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