I was going to call today’s offering “free market choice” after an unfortunate comment from a Bexley councillor but “weapon of mass instruction” so beautifully sums up what a library is that it wins the game hands down.  The whole point about public libraries, of course, is that they offer the complete opposite of the free market by doing such a wonderful job of “mass instruction”.  
When I do junior school class visits – and I do a lot – there is a little bit of fun that sums this up.  I get two children to come up.  One play-acts taking a book from Asda (my town has no bookshops) without paying for it.  As they almost leave, I shout “beep beep beep” and “stop thief!” to general hilarity.  The other play-acts taking a book from the public library without paying for it.  I shout “thank you” and “come back again”.  This is the difference.  One does not pay to take out a book.  One can take out twenty books retailing at perhaps £8 per book for free, as many times as one likes.  The High Street or Amazon alternative is simply not an option for many of the people I deal with.  £160 every three weeks on books?  I think not.
Libraries are not a “free market choice”.  There’d be no free access to books if it was left to the free market.  In a pure market driven economy, one would not be able to read a book without having the means to pay for it.  Believe me, there’s a lot of families who would never buy a book.  A lot of children denied the greatest chance of all life chances: that of a love of books, of a love for literacy and all the advantages that that gives.  Ladies, Gentleman and Councillors from Bexley, it’s the public library or nothing for a lot of the kids when it comes to reading.  The free market would just leave them with nothing.

415 libraries (326 buildings and 89 mobiles) currently under threat or closed/left council control since 1/4/11 out of c.4612 in the UK, complete list below.  The librarian professional body CILIP forecasts 600 libraries could be under threat (inc. 20% of English libraries).  The Public Libraries News figure is obtained from counting up all reports about public libraries in the media each day.
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“I thought my dad was having me on when I was six or seven and he told me he was taking me to a building full of free books that I could take home, read and then return and swap them for more, forever. We trotted along the road – libraries need to be local so that paying a visit feels as natural and easy as popping to the shops, not like a big, extra effort to be confined to the occasional day when you have the time – and it turned out he was telling the truth. It seemed like a miracle and it still does.”

“The brick and glass presence of libraries at the heart of our towns and cities gives the unequivocal message that books matter, that imagination matters, that the principles of free and fair access to literature and education to all matter. The most democratic of spaces, libraries are places where anyone – regardless of age or sex or background, their ambitions and opportunities (or lack of them) – is welcome and on an equal basis and for free. Libraries are home to the readers of today and the writers of tomorrow.” Love your libraries on Saturday 4th February – Reading Groups for Everyone. 

“What are libraries for? Google returns 16 million hits in answer – perhaps better illustrating what librarians are for” Catherine Kearney on Twitter.

  • Love your libraries on February 4th – National Libraries Day.  “Library users new and old are being encouraged to go along to their local library and find out about the great services on offer – from book loans and homework clubs to advice on starting a business and how to get online. Regular users are being asked to bring a friend and give them the chance to speak to library staff and find out exactly what services are available locally.”

Local News

  • Bexley – Village Library will stay free despite paid for membership option – News Shopper.  Councillor says“The library is free and remains free. The fact there is the facility to buy into something that provides something more is free market choice, I would have thought.””
  • Bolton – Trust makes plea to save libraries – This is Lancashire.  “A council spokesman said: “We are aware that the Bolton and District Civic Trust has submitted a report to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and await their response with interest.” … 68 page document sent “Richard Shirres, vice chairman of the Bolton and District Civic Trust, says in the organisation’s detailed submission, that the council has failed to ensure Bolton will have a comprehensive and efficient library service. He said: “The council has demonstrably failed to safeguard and strive for a suitable standard of library service.””
  • Calderdale – Thousands to have say on controversial library plans – Yorkshire Post.  “Councillors criticised for an alleged lack of consultation over plans to move Halifax Central Library are giving the public another chance to have their say. Critics have claimed that Calderdale Council has failed to have an open and transparent consultation process over the future of the Central Library. Council leaders want to sell the Northgate House site and move the library and archive next to the Piece Hall. Now, people are to be asked their opinion on several key questions.”
  • Cambridgeshire – Council reveals budgetHeart.   “Smaller sums of cash” will be spent on “Securing library services and transforming them to provide a twenty first century service. “

Croydon – Local Council’s “Big Society” Betrayal – Save Croydon libraries Campaign.   The highly regarded and efficient Upper Norwood Joint Library is in danger of closure due to Croydon Council being unhappy with it’s partner, Lambeth, and a desire to privatise. Long and detailed article.  See also Alan Gibbons on the same subject. 

  • Darlington – Cockerton Library closure plan fails to get backingNorthern Echo.   “A report of the place committee, which is being put to the council’s efficiency and resources scrutiny committee, reads: “Bearing in mind Darlington’s poor position in a range of measures of library provision, including being the worst in the country for its number of service points per head of population, and given the importance of libraries to disadvantaged groups in times of economic recession, this scrutiny committee cannot endorse the closure of Cockerton library.” Library may still close if alternatives to closure (seeing if local schools can pay, getting volunteers in, etc).
  • Durham – Culture trust “could improve services”: council leader – Northern Echo.  “Coun Henig was speaking as his cabinet agreed ‘in principle’ to transfer into a trust the running of 39 libraries, 15 leisure centres, the Gala Theatre and all services run by Leisureworks in Derwentside and Leisure Connection in east Durham.”.  Councillor hopes Trust will avoid business rates [unfortunately this is likely to be not entirely the case later in 2012 – Ed.]
  • Gloucestershire – Fears over Wotton Library opening hours – Gazette.   “… the revised proposals are causing concern in Wotton where the town’s library is being reduced to 12 hours. Under the original restructure Wotton Library was to be professionally staffed by two librarians for 12 hours a week and open for a further 10 hours a week, with a local volunteer working alongside a librarian. Cllr John Cordwell, county councillor for Wotton, said county leaders had made no assurances that the agreement still stood.”
  • Hackney – £4m new library will blow your mind – Upcoming.   “With more than 32,000 books, CDs, and DVDs to choose from, the first library to be built in Hackney, London, in the past 20 years has something for everyone. Bigger, better and modern, Dalston C.L.R. Library opened on January 23, and has it all.”
  • Northern Ireland – “Improved arrangements” over local library cuts – Carrick Times.  “Controversial plans to halve opening hours at two of the borough’s libraries have been revised following public outcry. Under original proposals by Libraries Northern Ireland, Greenisland and Whitehead branches would have been cut to 18 hours. However, with the provision of additional £2.39 million funding by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the Board of Libraries NI decided that opening hours at the two locations will be reduced by 90 minutes and four and a half hours respectively.”

“It’s not a total victory in any sense but it’s a very small reduction as to what was envisaged. Let’s not give reason in the future to revisit the proposal,”