“Do you know what I’ve got here: a gun” – tales from the libraries front line. Photo: Marcus Rose
“I grew up a bookworm in Puerto Rico, where there are no public libraries,” Gabriella Houlgraves from Maidstone told UNISON local government delegates in Liverpool this morning.
She asked them to imagine her joy when she came to the UK and discovered “a building full of more books than I could read in a lifetime” – which became even greater when she started working in the library service.
But austerity cuts now mean that “we are now put at risk with lone working.
“We put our heart and soul into the work,” she said. But now she sees “so many colleagues leaving because they are burned out … because they are attacked with hammers!”
The threat – and reality – of violence against library workers was a persistent theme as conference discussed a warning that libraries are at breaking point, and set out plans to tackle that.
Helen Aspley of the service group executive pointed out that libraries are now having to employ security staff.
That is a necessity, as Camden library worker Claire Marriott pointed out.
“In Camden, libraries we have the most reported incidents of violence and aggression across the council,” she said.
She recounted her experience of an incident where a library member was banned after a malicious download onto the library’s computer system. But as he was being escorted out of the building by a colleague from security, “he said: ‘Look what I’ve got’ and pulled out a gun.
“Imagine if I’d have been a lone worker.”
Ms Aspley had no doubt about where the blame for the state of the library service lies: fragmentation: “primarily cuts, cuts, cuts”.
Conference committed the union to working with other campaign organisations “to build a new vision for the future of libraries,” including campaigning against the privatisation of library services.