Next Tuesday (13 March) sees the Speak up for Libraries lobby in London. If you can go and join in, I’d urge you to do so – this is a chance for library supporters to make a big impression! If (like me) you can’t go, you can still show your support by signing up to support the issue, and writing to your MP to ask them to support the Speak up for Libraries early day motion.
I’ve written to my MP to ask for his support:
Dear Tony Lloyd,
I am writing to ask you to sign Early Day motion 2817, Speak Up For Libraries.
Free public libraries which are open to all are a vital part of the country’s community structure, and deliver huge benefits for education, life-long learning, digital literacy, and community engagement.
They are one of the few free, non-threatening spaces left. You don’t have to subscribe to a particular belief or belong to a particular sector of society to be allowed to use a library.
They’re places where you can go and know you’ll be welcomed, whoever you are, and whatever your reason for being there.
And there are many reasons to go to your public library! As well as large selections of fiction, public libraries provide access to educational material. People can go to their public library to learn how to use a computer, to learn to knit or grow their own veg, to learn another language, or find out more about a disease facing them or a loved one.
Libraries also offer computer access – increasingly vital for accessing goods and services, including local and national government services. Millions of people in the UK don’t have a computer, and couldn’t afford to buy and maintain one. Without computer access at their local library they will end up even more distanced from society.
Libraries and librarians also offer activities and ways to engage with the community. Services for children (such as Rhymetime) are hugely popular, and often over subscribed. Educationalists agree about the importance of engaging children with books and learning at an early age.
Many libraries also offer access to health information, which users may be unable or disinclined to seek elsewhere. Librarians will not judge or gossip. Part of being a professional librarian is adherence to a strict code of ethics*, with the needs of the user and society always at its heart, and they are a trusted profession. Replacing professional or trained library staff with volunteers may erode that trust, and lead to people not getting access to the information they need.
For that is what public libraries are about: connecting people with the information they need. UNESCO define the public library as:
‘the local gateway to knowledge, provides a basic condition for lifelong learning, independent decision-making and cultural development of the individual and social groups’
And access to information is often regarded as a basic human right. Libraries provide non-judgemental, unbiased, democratic access to that information, and librarians will help people find and evaluate the information they really need.
Disinformation, lies, private agendas, and prejudice have no place in the library. Allowing private groups (such as religious or political groups) to run public libraries opens the door to bias in information provision.
We’re asking the government not to allow councils to make hasty and short-sighted decisions about the future of libraries. Free and open-to-all public libraries are vital for an educated, engaged, and healthy populace. Please don’t let them vanish.
For more information on this issue, including stories from many members of the public about what a difference libraries have made to their lives, see independent campaign group Voices for the Library http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/, Speak up for Libraries http://www.speakupforlibraries.org/, and information on the value of libraries from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals http://www.cilip.org.uk/get-involved/advocacy/pages/overviewofadvocacy.aspx.
Thank you for taking the time to read this email, and please do sign early day motion 2817.
*I should clarify: only members of professional organisations (such as CILIP or ARA) are actually subject to their association’s code of ethics. That doesn’t mean that non-members aren’t ethical! But they’re not committed to following a certain code in the same way.