Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Half a loaf is better than no bread

After some effort, by many people and groups including Five Leaves, our local County Council has reduced some of their cuts in library services. We organised 100 East Midlands writers in sending a letter of protest about the cuts - clearly a good letter as Councillor John Cottee is still mulling over his reply... The cuts have been changed from catastrophic to simply really bad. For example the book fund will now only be cut by 50%, not 75%. That is still really bad, but the protests have had £400,000 returned to the book fund. For example 22 of the 28 smaller libraries whose opening hours were being reduced by 75% will have their hours reduced by 50%. That is still really bad but £70,000 has been returned to library staffing, which will keep some low paid part-time women workers in jobs and allow just enough opening time for those libraries to survive and dispense with some of the stupidity of them being run by volunteers. Philip Pullman tackles this issue well in his essay on http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/philip-pullman/this-is-big-society-you-see-it-must-be-big-to-contain-so-many-volunteers.
We should not stop campaigning - here, or in Doncaster or in Oxford or anywhere else libraries are under threat. Phillip Pullman has his own personal library story, mentioned in his article. Here's mine:
My home town library opened in 1904. There is a wonderful photograph of people thronging the streets, as far as the eye can see, to welcome this new library. My grandfather borrowed books from that library. He loved Westerns and pulp crime fiction. He usually asked my mother to go and collect his books - and, family legend has it, she was always late home as she became the leading eight year old expert on Westerns and pulp crime. Like her father she did not stay on at school, leaving for factory work aged fourteen, but she had a love of reading. Many years after I left home I discovered she was still using library tickets, renewed annually, in my name, in the name of her late mother and in the name of a woman I'd had time to marry and divorce. Only when that library changed to allow readers to borrow more than three books did she lay her mother to rest, admit my marriage had failed and stop pretending that I was still living at home in my 30s. Her proudest day had been when I started work in that same library, my first job, which led me to a life as a qualified librarian, a bookseller and publisher. And the last time my home town library was under threat I was pleased to find that my mother was one of hundreds of people attending a protest meeting and one of the leading hecklers of the Councillors. We all have library stories and they are not all of some Hovis-and-butcher-boy-on-a-bicycle past. Two or three years ago I helped edit a short video on library use locally, which included an interview with some witty female teenagers who were in a Manga reading group, an interview with a single parent who'd used her local library as an office and training centre - developing her computer skills until she found work. Her library had also been done up resulting in a big increase in issues. Libraries can be, should be and in many places are as relevant now as they were in 1904.
So I welcome this partial change of heart shown by Nottinghamshire County Library. It is half a loaf, better than none. But we still want the whole bloody bakery.

1 comment:

david said...

Love the stories about your mother!