Thursday 19 October is UNISON’s SOS Libraries Day. UNISON members and activists in libraries will be standing up for our public library service, holding events and calling for an end to the seemingly endless assault on our libraries.
Last week was Libraries Week, organised by library and information association CILIP, which celebrated everything good about libraries.
And it’s clear we love libraries. Why else would we make 250 million visits to public libraries in Great Britain in the last year? That’s more than visits to the cinema, theatre, live music gigs, and trips to the UK’s top 10 tourist attractions, combined.
So if we love libraries so much, why is the public library service being torn to shreds? UNISON members know the answer: spending cuts.
Libraries are closing. At least 500 have gone since 2010 and 8,000 library workers have lost their jobs.
Libraries are being privatised and the number of volunteers has more than tripled since 2006 from 12,700 to a staggering 44,501 last year.
How on earth do you run a sustainable, top-quality public library service on volunteers and good will? You need experienced, expert library workers.
Another threat libraries face is the sinister expansion of ‘staffless’ libraries.
You can only gain entry to these via a swipe card and pin number and there are no staff in attendance.
If you’re lucky, staff may be present for a few hours, perhaps over lunchtime, but often there are no staff at any time of the day. No friendly face to offer assistance and expertise, provide the personal touch or a sense of security and safety.
It could just be you, alone in a building, among the book stacks and computers. How safe do you feel when the only contact with the outside world in case of an emergency is a “big brother” security camera linked up to a remote office somewhere?
If that isn’t bad enough, there are serious issues around equality of access. Children, often those under 16, can only enter during “staffless” times if accompanied by an adult. Good luck with the school work.
All these library cuts have an unfair impact on marginalised groups. Women, Black and disabled people are much more likely to use their local library, so they are disproportionately affected by library cuts.
This is hardly the “comprehensive and efficient” public library service that councils are required to provide by law.
It’s about time politicians understood that librarians don’t just stamp books. Libraries aren’t simply rooms full of books.
They are packed with opportunities and dreams, and it’s our beleaguered librarians and library workers who, against the odds, connect people to ideas and inspiration.
These are just some of the reasons UNISON members across the UK will be supporting our SOS Libraries Day on Thursday.
Alongside our branches and members on the frontline, UNISON is calling on local and national politicians to take action against spending cuts to libraries. We’ve filled MPs’ and councillors’ in-boxes, making sure they can’t ignore us.
So, while we shared our love of libraries last week and celebrated all that they offer, this week it’s time to start saving them.
You can support SOS Libraries Day by telling us what your library does for you at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re organising events, send us your photos and follow us on Twitter, #SOSlibraries and @UNISONdamage, and Facebook at UNISON LG Campaigns.