We called this meeting as Lambeth is consulting on massive cuts to our library service.
The threatened attacks are:
- Close Waterloo and Minet Libraries this year
- Cease funding Durning, Carnegie and Upper Norwood Libraries next year
- Move the Archives into Brixton Library, reducing the provision at Brixton Library
- Reduce West Norwood Library to a few bookshelves and allow Picturehouse to take over running it.
- Reduce hours at Brixton, Clapham and Streatham Libraries
- Reduce the Home Visit Service
The Labour Party in Lambeth rightly say, that there has been an attack from the government on Lambeth, our local services and communities like ours up and down the country. They say, given the scale of the ConDem cuts there is little as they could have done. They say they have to make a budget, they have to be responsible and that they have no other choice.
One thing I would say to that, is they aren’t as they claim prioritising frontline services. One thing you can say about the cuts accross the public sector and the chaos caused by constant restructuring is that some people will get rich off the back of it.
Here in Lambeth we have 17 employees earning in excess of £100,000. That is a pretty big senior management structure for an organisation which is haemorrhaging staff. In addition, there are 19 agency workers in the same pay bracket. There are another 132 agency workers on daily or hourly rates which are paid equivalent to over £50,000. Next time you are faced with a councillor saying they’ve done everything they can to save frontline services, tell them those figures. Ask them why they shut libraries and close day centres but pay for rebranding and consultatnts.
But honestly that is not enough. There isn’t £90 million worth of waste and “jobs for the boys” in Lambeth. What’s the answer to “What more can we do? We are trying to protect you!” The answer from Lambeth’s trade unions is we want you to fight with us. You make a choice to pass on those Tory cuts without even trying to defy this government. They say “We have to do the responsible thing” – but when Labour Councils did the responsible thing when faced with the first round attacks and passed on the cuts to their communities, the government thanked them by making even deeper cuts. It is not responsible to sell off your libraries; to dismantle services which save lives and make life worth living. It is cowardly and it is disloyal to the people who voted for you.
These cuts and closures will be enacted under the next government – it is a message that not only can’t they stand with us against the Tories they won’t stand with us under a Labour Government. It is not good enough. So we say to the Labour Party, stand with us, fight with us for this borough but if you can’t or you won’t we will fight on without you.
I went to a meeting last week, where Cllr Edbrooke was speaking. Amongst declarations of how much it broke her heart to see the library service devastated by Tory cuts, she told us all how excited she was about the opportunities. It’s obviously very exciting devastation. And what she’s excited about is community libraries.
Our neighbour Lewisham introduced Community Libraries, let’s see how they fared. Public Library News states;
“The outsourced branches on average experienced a decline of 73% in book issues over one year.”
So what services you receive now, doesn’t your community library have to offer? That might be better asked as, what does you community library have to offer? It doesn’t need to have free internet access; actually it doesn’t have to have free anything, in order to qualify as a community library. Community Libraries can, if they wish, charge for membership. They have fewer books – I have more books in my house than they had in The Railway Pub pop up library. It’s a lovely initiative, we should have more books in pubs but they are not libraries. They can charge for membership. They don’t have to have storytime and wriggle and rhymes sessions and if they do they do not have to be free. There are places all over Lambeth that charge £10 a child for rhyme times because that’s the way you cover the cost of putting them on. Don’t fall for the scam of community libraries, a cuddly name for the smokescreen put up to cover the closure of the service which belongs to your community and sits in your community and is an actual library – your local public library.
Use it or lose it
When I was a kid if you’d ask me what I was going to be when I grew up, I wouldn’t have guessed a librarian, mainly because I was pretty determined to be a tiger when I grew up. But I always knew libraries would be part of my life, because I loved the library, my parents took me there all the time and I knew once I was grown up I’d go all be myself, every single week. Turns out, if I hadn’t worked in a library that probably wouldn’t be true. Some people use the library consistently throughout their whole life, most people don’t. It has peaks and troughs
You go to the library a lot as a child; then again if you’re studying; you might have a break until you have your own kids; or decades of barely going, then maybe you lose your job or take up a hobby and return to your library and then it drops off again and then peaks when you retire and have more time and inclination. And that is absolutely fine. It is fine, if you want to save a library that you barely even use, because the point is it should be there when you do want it. None of this Use it Or Lose it rhetoric. I am happy to pay in for education and hospitals for my entire working life knowing I will not always have the need to use them. I don’t pass emergency services and feel annoyed I’m paying for them even though I’ve never been carried out of a burning building or taken to hospital. You should use your library because they are full of brilliant things you might not even realise is there and they allow you to access a vast world of entertainment and information – but if you don’t need or want to it right now, it is still absolutely right that you can access it when you do
Why we need libraries – “outcomes”
This is the Council’s Outcomes budget – last year the council moved from funding services to funding outcomes. It is laid out as a very attractive Venn diagram. You may think when facing hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts, this kind of exercise, is somewhat rearranging the chairs on the titanic. I couldn’t possibly comment.
Right let’s have a look at this – financial security, vibrant and creative town centres, skills to find work, opportunity for better homes, improved health. Yeah we do all that here.
- Children who go to a library are twice as likely as those who don’t to read well (National Literacy Trust)
- Oxford University study Teenagers who read for pleasure are much more likely to get a better job when they become adults
- Libraries encourage a love of reading, help people access mental health support, help than bid for council houses, help them get the skills they need to get a job and to find work, they promote community cohesion through stigma free universal services…
Literacy changes lives, a National Literacy Trust research paper showed that literacy has tangible relationships with educational attainment, economic well-being, aspirations, family circumstances, physical and mental health as well as civic / cultural participation.
Honestly the amount it costs if you go into hospital, if you need mental health intervention, if you go to prison – everything we do here in this building and in the other nine libraries in this borough- is a bloody bargain.
Even if libraries didn’t achieve all these outcomes. If it didn’t reap massive social benefits in terms of health, education and employment, I’d still be asking you to save our libraries. Because people enjoy reading and we shouldn’t have to justify every moment of our existence and pleasures in life by how much money someone can make or can save. We have the right to a bit of humanity – to find things out, to get lost in stories. Because books are where you can learn to be brave by meeting scary monsters who you can turn the page on; where you learn empathy by having other people’s feeling laid out for you, where you learn the world is not always as it has been and that it can change. What you read and have read, effect the kind of parent, friend or lover you’ll be and teach you all kind of skills you don’t even know you are learning.
Reading is a right. Accessing libraries is a right. Is it a right because it is covered by statutory legislation – maybe. Is it a right because UN enshrines the right to participate in cultural life – possibly.
Much more important than either these – it’s a human right because I said so, and because these people say and because you say so. Like every right in life it’s won by people demanding it and fighting for it with all they have.
So we are here today to work out how to do that…