Turning over a new leaf – taking the fight for libraries to the streets

Writers, readers and workers take the fight for the country’s cultural soul to Westminster

placards, flags and banners feature on Parliament Square as part of the national libraries, culture and art demonstration

“Libraries are the heart of our communities,” UNISON’s London regional secretary Maggi Ferncombe told demonstrators at Saturday’s Save our Libraries event in Parliament Square.

Several hundred people, from library workers to users, readers to writers, from young to old, gathered at the British Library and marched to Parliament Square, to protest against the crippling underfunding of the country’s arts and culture.

Supporting the march, award-winning author, Philip Pullman said: “Our great museums and our once superb library service should be the very least we can do for our people. They provide sustenance and healing and joy and knowledge to the intellect and the heart and soul, and we should never let them die away.

“My argument in favour of preserving public libraries and subsidising museums is based on passion. It’s a matter of love as well as economics.”

Since 2010, more than 500 public libraries have been closed across England, Scotland and Wales and, despite the Chancellor’s claims that austerity is ending, they will continue to be hit by crippling budget cuts.

Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson threw his support behind the demonstration, which was organised by UNISON – at the forefront of the for fight for arts funding – with the support of PCS and UNITE. He bemoaned the “years of Tory austerity,” which “have cut arts provision across this country to the bone.

“Not just libraries, but museums, regional theatres, music schools have reduced opening hours or closed because of a lack of funding.

“Thank you UNISON for showing – once again – what an effective, campaigning union looks like. I hope Theresa May hears your message loud and clear.”

In Parliament Square on Saturday, there were passionate, rallying speeches from frontline workers and award winning authors.

Frank Cottrell-Boyce (right) – writer of Goodbye Christopher Robin and the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony – said: “We are in the middle of an epidemic of loneliness. The library was my shelter. Libraries are not just about books, they are a habitat.”

John Dougherty – award winning children’s author of There’s a Pig Up My Nose and the Stinkbomb and Ketchup-face series argued: “If you need to raise standards in education, you need to get children reading, and particularly reading for pleasure. Where do kids develop their reading for pleasure habit? In the library.”