Last week I received a plea for help from a lovely lady called Eve. I first met Eve when I volunteered at my local community library in the village of Lowford in Hampshire. Community libraries are run by the council’s library service, who provide the books and technical support, but don’t employ any full-time staff. Eve is one of a group of approximately 25 regular volunteers who keep this library open six days a week.
Hampshire County Council have announced plans to reduce the library service in order to save £1.76 m from their budget. The Council have issued a very bulky consultation document to argue their case for cutting these services (if there is one device guaranteed to deter the public from gleaning facts it’s a bulky consultation document). One option they are considering is to close ten Hampshire libraries completely, the other is for a reduction in hours across all libraries in the county. Plus they intend to withdraw support from the four community libraries in the county to save another £49,000, which would make a total of 14 libraries to close.
Eve asked if I could help raise awareness of the campaign against these cuts through my links on social media. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much clout on social media as Eve thinks I do but I promised to do my bit. Several Hampshire authors with far more influence than me, Neil Gaiman, Clare Fuller, David Nicholls to name three, have already taken up the fight and are shouting loud about the detrimental effects on local communities.
One of my earliest childhood memories is the weekly visit to the village library. It was situated above a fire-station, and involved a climb up some very steep stairs. It wasn’t very big, and I grew up in a house where we already had plenty of books, but this weekly visit was a treat. It’s where I read my first Dr Seuss.
When I had my own children, I took them to the library too. My kids took part in story-time, craft sessions and summer reading challenges. A visit to the library was part and parcel of growing up. Give a child a book, and you give a child a window to a whole new world.
But that was back in the good old days, when public libraries were considered an essential part of a community, when cultural enlightenment and education were valued by the powers that be and readily available for all. Now in this affluent, progressive 21st century, these resources are being eroded. Why? What sort of society are we creating where these aspirations are given such little value?
The people of Lowford fought hard to establish their library. After a somewhat shaky start due to an internal dispute in local politics, this library is essentially only in its third full year of operation. It is situated in a purpose built community centre and the library hosts several community groups – Knit and Natter, a book club, a creative writing group, a scrabble club, and there is the potential for more. Local pre-schools and nurseries make regular visits, as do the local Citizens Advice Bureau. There is a flourishing, independently run café upstairs in the same building, which again is just taking off. It’s the sort of facility a council should be proud of.
Thousands of new homes are currently being built across Hampshire, several hundred within a two mile radius of Lowford alone. An influx of population at the same time as proposed cuts to local services doesn’t make any sense at all.
Anyone who has ever visited a library will know that it is so much more than a place to come and simply borrow books. I wonder how many of these councillors sat in their high castle at Winchester have ever been stuck at home with a fractious toddler, and thought, let’s take a walk to the library? How many of these decision-makers have spent a lonely, isolated, afternoon and decided to visit their local library just to get out of the house and seek a friendly face?
The Council argue ‘other libraries are available’, which they are – a car ride away. Don’t get me started on public transport services in rural communities…
They are suggesting if financial support for the community libraries is withdrawn volunteers could take on the ‘autonomous’ running of the facility. The volunteers at Lowford already give up their time freely to support the library, they don’t want to run it. There is a huge difference.
I no longer live close to Lowford, but I’ve signed their petition and I’ve completed the relevant sections on the consultation form regarding Hampshire’s plans. Contrary to all the normal library rules and regulations this is not the time to BE QUIET!
I don’t often get on my high horse, but I suppose the message I want to get across is if do you have a library in your community use it, because if you don’t it’ll be gone in a blink of an eye. And if you do live in Hampshire, please make your thoughts known at