A government that promised a Big Society is taking steps that will destroy a small one

Protestors protect libraries in Egypt

Protestors protect libraries in Egypt

Until I was eighteen, I lived in a village in North Wales called Llanfairfechan. My parents still do: my brother plays for the local football team, and has done since he was a kid.

Llanfairfechan’s remoteness is both its blessing and its curse. Its incredible natural beauty is captivating; its community is tightly-knit and welcoming. But facilities are sparse, and getting to Bangor – the nearest large town – can be a bind.

Like most rural places, Llanfairfechan relies on public services to act as the glue that holds the community together. Good services are not just a convenience for the village: they are its beating heart. The school, town hall, library, parks and clinics define Llanfairfechan as a community with its own identity, its own way of living, and its own local democracy. Public services enable residents to knit their socialisation into the fabric of the village: to be educated there, to have fun there, and in return, to shape the village by taking part in its politics.

Last month, Llanfairfechan became one of the 375 towns and villages in Britain to lose its local library. Residents were denied the chance to have a voice, thanks to the Council’s decision not to engage in any public consultation. Principal scrutiny committee chairman Janet Finch-Saunders told the North Wales Weekly News, ‘People are coming up with ideas of how their libraries could be saved, but they’re not going to have the chance to discuss them with officers at public meetings.’

The public’s desire for discussion is evidence of the fact that closing the library is a serious decision. It is the only place many villagers can use the internet, and it is opposite the school, meaning that extra-curricular reading is normal for children from an early age. Mostly, however, the library – like all libraries – gives Llanfairfechan’s residents a sense of purpose: a chance to explore their passions free of charge. A friend of the family is a keen and talented amateur photographer, who will lose computer access if the library closes. This is a punishing fact, not least because the library costs less than £9,000 a year to run – a tiny fraction of the Conway Council’s £200m annual budget.

Like so many towns and villages across the country, the question that hangs in the air in Llanfairfechan is ‘why?’ Why is the council taking away such a precious facility without explanation? Why have we been denied a say in our own public services? And like elsewhere in the UK, those questions are slowly morphing into action: the Save Llanfairfechan Library group is coming together, and getting stronger and more determined.

When I speak to my parents, I’m not surprised at the sense of frustration and the need for action. A government that promised a Big Society is taking steps that will destroy a small one. Llanfairfechan was already a great example of the helpful and unified communities David Cameron envisioned. Instead of celebrating that, the government is dismantling the very things that help it function.

If the government and local council were expecting to discreetly shut down Llanfairfechan Library, they were sorely mistaken. Not long ago, Nick Clegg instructed those who disagreed with him to get real; to grow up. Maybe Clegg will now learn some lessons of his own: that you can’t build a Big Society if you destroy the tools with which to do it, and you can’t take away the things that matter to people without a fight.

Posted on False Economy by Ellie Mae O’Hagan (@MissEllieMae) co-editor of New Left Project.

In Egypt they protect their libraries, in England the Philistine ConDem government closes them down!

In Oxfordshire 20 of its 43 libraries are to close.

I sometimes make use of a little village library in the small Lincolnshire village of Washingborough. I do so with difficulty as it is rarely open. I can see what is coming, like the Beeching massacre of our rural railway network, this library is rarely used, there is no public demand for it, therefore we will have no option but to close it.

Philip Pullman has given a damning indictment of the decision to close several hundred libraries across the country. We need more authors to speak out. International writers like Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho and Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk.

Philip Pullman has compared the action of the Philistine ConDem Government with that of the fanatical Bishop Theophilus who in the year 391 AD laid waste to the Library of Alexandria and its hundreds of thousands of books of learning and scholarship.

In North Wales it is not only the loss of their libraries. Such is the contempt the arrogant officials taking these decisions have for the public they do not even consider they need to discuss the matter with the public. There is though one small matter these jumped-up jobsworths forget. They are paid by the pubic, they are paid by the public to serve the public, that is all they exist for.

The public are not taking library closures lying down. Stony Stratford, near Milton Keynes, is the site of the first great library revolt of the 21st century. The building is under threat of closure due to council budget cuts. As a joke, a local resident suggested that people should show their support in a fitting way – by getting out their library cards and borrowing every single book on the shelves. Through word of mouth and the internet, this joke became a reality and the shelves have been politely emptied: all the books – some 16,000 in total – are now on loan. The library was stripped of every single book! [see Buckinghamshire library emptied in cuts protest]

It is not only libraries. The ConDem Government has scrapped Bookstart which gives each and every child a book with which to start life, though such has been the public outcry the Philistines may have backed down.

Historically there is not the massive Budget Deficit the ConDem Government claims. We are not at the edge of the abyss. What we are seeing is Shock Doctrine to drive through slash and burn of public services.

Under the terms of the Public Libraries and Museums Act, local authorities have a statutory duty to provide library services. Should there be an attempt to shut my local library I will not hesitate to apply for a Judicial Review. I would urge others to do the same.

Saturday 5 February 2011 is Save our Libraries Day. [see Save Our Libraries Day Is Tomorrow]

Protestors protect libraries in Egypt
Mr. Pullman’s Compass
Leave the libraries alone. You don’t understand their value
‘Public not being consulted properly over threatened Conwy libraries’
Time for a quiet rebellion over library closures
Buckinghamshire library emptied in cuts protest
Joanna Trollope backs Gloucestershire library campaign
Protest film being made over cuts to library services
Isle of Wight library protesters plan ‘mass borrow’
Wigan Labour MP condemns library cuts
Mass borrow to help save Isle of Wight library
Library closure threats spark campaigns across England
Campaign grows against cuts that would shut 375 libraries
Stand up and take action against library closures
Top writers join National Library Action Day
Library closures ‘will be threat to isolated rural communities’
Somerset backtracks on library closures
Leading authors including Kate Mosse warn about library closures
Library closures ‘will be against the law’
Supporters in Egypt Continue to Protect Library
Protests across the UK expected for Save Our Libraries Day
Library read-ins planned across the country

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