Let’s All Kick the Public Libraries

For anyone who doesn’t know, libraries of all kinds have been dying in the UK for at least the last 20 years, in the case of public libraries arguably since the 1960’s which is when they last had any kind of serious investment. Oh, it’s the same across the public sector, cuts cuts and more cuts, but libraries are viewed as ‘nice to have’s, not ‘necessities’ and so are an easy target.

This BBC article points out that there have been 6000 jobs lost in the last five years. Jobs have been being lost on a large scale for the last ten so I don’t know how many have gone in total in that time. I know there are very few actual described librarians left in the system now, perhaps just one or two per county depending on size. Most of the staff left are minimum-wage-or-not-much-above-it library assistants, doing much the same jobs (except that one does the job three or four would have done ten years ago: many possibly are ex-librarians) but for lower wages. What you don’t have time to do, simple matters such as picking books up off the floor, simply doesn’t get done. Please remember that next time you go in asking for a specific book and can’t find it.

Then we get these wishy-washy nice reports from government, the one that prompted that BBC report.

All they are are kicks in the teeth.

Yes libraries are useful. We all know that. Yes libraries are valuable. We all know that. Yes libraries are popular. We all know that. Cheers. Thanks.

So give us some money. Real money, not a fund for this or that development, which then falls prey to the general financial weakness (e.g. BBC article on Birmingham library losses) or gets whittled away by ‘efficiency savings’. That’s just called waste.

Never mind lecturing us on how we should be this that or the other. It was bookshops we were told to emulate in the 00’s, now it’s coffee shops. Any bookshop owner will tell you that books and cafes don’t mix that well, the stock gets damaged. Never mind telling us how we’re behind the times and need more computing. Actually most libraries I’ve come across have got as good computer facilities as they can afford, it’s the most efficient way of getting access to loads of information when we can’t afford proper books (electronic or otherwise). For your info if we stocked laptops and tablets – which we don’t have money to buy – they’d just get nicked.

And the stuff on page 21 about encouraging ‘talented’ people into the profession? Don’t make me laugh. 6000 jobs gone in five years. An unknown number over ten. There are at this time 34 jobs for the whole of the profession and the whole of the UK offered on the main professional jobsite, the first time I’ve seen so many not in London for ages. Oh, and two of those are in foreign lands, so actually 32 for the UK. On that same page 21 volunteers are mentioned – I think this is probably the only honest statement in this report. Volunteers have been taking over the paid work slowly. What they really want is to recruit the talented ‘volunteers’ into the profession. I have some very old news for you. Most people have to make a living, we can’t afford to volunteer.

Forget the damned reports. Forget “setting up task force in partnership… to consider the recommendations…and lead on any future actions” (any? none, you mean). We know what we are, we know what we can do. We know what we want to do. We know we can’t do any of it. Stop cutting council services and GIVE US THE MONEY!! The money spent on the report and the task force would be a start! At least stop wasting money on these insults.

And as for CILIP, ‘welcoming the report and endorsing its proposals as a “step forward”. Very diplomatic. I would have just stuck with saying ‘you’re all bastards’ myself. It’s time and past time for some real defence of public services of all kind. Stick with pointing out in words of one syllable the number of these reports we’ve seen, the similarity and futility of their findings, and the fact that libraries have always done everything they can on peanuts. You’re quick enough for action on inventing new hoops for your (few remaining, possibly) members to jump through, chartership and the like. Why so slow on calling central government to account?

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