It barely seems possible but this Sunday marks the first anniversary of Voices for the Library. And what a year it has been for everyone that has been involved in the craziness for the past twelve months. There may have been times when we thought reaching a first anniversary was the stuff of a mad man’s dreams, but here we are, one year on and still as determined and committed as we ever were. We have achieved a great deal over the past year and I think everyone who has ever been involved in the campaign should feel really proud about where the organisation is now.
Earlier on today, I was looking back over an old blog post I wrote just over a year ago. It is funny looking back at it now. I remember writing it thinking that I would love to get a couple of people together and collaborate on a blog or something similar to share positive stories about libraries. I was only thinking about putting something together on a very small scale and probably would have had a very limited impact (although it would have made me feel much better!). I was blown away when I discovered others were thinking along the same lines but on a much grander scale than I had ever envisaged. Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to get involved and I am so glad that I did. I think the whole project has had a really positive impact on the whole narrative around public libraries and certainly to a greater extent than many of us anticipated.
The extent of the media coverage we have received has certainly been beyond my expectations. As everyone knows, Lauren has really gone beyond what most normal people would do to engage with the media and get that message out there. I certainly think her commitment to share the good that libraries bring to communities and the willingness with which the media has engaged with her has had a massive impact on the success of the campaign. But it’s not just Lauren, everyone has worked hard to build up links and establish relationships with the media. Being so widely distributed geographically has not turned out to have been a bad thing. It means we are reaching people in a way that would have been far more difficult if, say, we had all been based in London. It also means why are able to speak up and raise awareness of things that are happening in parts of the country that would perhaps otherwise be ignored.
The provision of a platform for people to express their appreciation for libraries has also been something I have been really proud of. Reading through the stories on the website it becomes very clear that a lot of people have a lot of affection for libraries. Not just the rose-tinted library of their childhood, but also the library that helps them to seek employment, or helps them to explore the internet. It is sad that much of our activities have focused on ‘saving’ libraries as time has passed, but every story we receive from library users is a positive and powerful reminder of why it is we do what we do. For me, I think it is the most important part of our site and the campaign in general. Before the campaign started there was no place for library users to come together and express why they value libraries or demonstrate why authorities are wrong to close them. Until the campaign launched it was all about individual campaigners and what they believed libraries should be doing on behalf of their users. Now we have a wealth of stories from people who are telling us themselves what they value and what they desire from the library service.
As I indicated at the top of this post, a lot of people have been involved in the campaign over the past year. Yet, as I also indicated on the previous blog post, any changes in personnel have barely affected the way we have gone about our business. No matter how many people have come and gone, we plough on sticking close to the aims we established when we first formed. Yet every single person who has come and gone has helped to make the organisation what it is today. Bethan, Katy, Venessa, Phil, Alice, Mandy – each has been involved at various points and each has left their mark on the campaign. I’m sure many others will come and go as Voices continues to put forward the case for libraries and I am equally sure that their input will, like those before, make it stronger.
Finally, as I repeatedly say, there is still much to be done but I am immensely proud of everything we have achieved together. It is a privilege to work with such passionate library advocates and I am fortunate that I feel I can call them friends as well as colleagues. So, Gary, Tom, Mick, Jo, Lauren, Simon, Adrienne, Abby and Ian, here’s to another year of highlighting the need for public libraries and helping to provide a voice for the library!