April 21, 2015
Caitlin Moran fears UK libraries are becoming “weak mutant ghosts”
by Kirsten Reach
It’s more than election season in the UK, or–an equally important popular vote–#GameofTotes in the States. It’s a season to support UK libraries.
Speak Up for Libraries, an international coalition to protect library staff, says it’s a “once-in-five-years chance to make sure central government understands that libraries are a low-cost, essential resource for the work of local councils.”
Libraries in the UK suffered 50 closures in 2014, and there’s been a 33% budget cut by local UK government since 2011. We can’t lay off all of the country’s librarians, and turning local libraries into co-ops is far from an ideal solution.
The Speak Up for Libraries manifesto reads:
Already, many library services are threatened by, or already experiencing, deep cuts, widespread closures of vital local branches – or the damaging policy of turning them over to volunteers to run.
This is a once-in-five-years chance to make sure central government understands that libraries are a low-cost, essential resource for the work of local councils, and for national agendas such as ‘Digital by Default’ – and deeply valued by local residents and the nation as a whole.
Yet the Government continues to cut the grants given to local authorities, meaning that although libraries are a statutory service, they are often seen as a soft target for savings. Such cuts often save little, but do great damage.
The group is gaining support from authors like Caitlin Moran, who has called the library in her hometown of Wolverhampton, “a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival,” as well as “a thing I would have married, in my pre-pubertal, anthropomorphic phase.”
On Sunday, she joined the cause, writing about threats to libraries in The Times:
This is a tactic we must all grow furious about. That when something cannot be axed straight away – because it is important, because it is loved, because people protest – that thing is then starved or bled until it is a weak, mutant ghost. Until no one wishes to defend it. Until no one can defend it, because all the words they could have learnt and used are now heaped up by the door, for sale.
She argues that a carefully curated selection is much more valuable to a community than a collection of the most-requested, popular titles. Such a library “takes out its intelligence and knowledge,” and is not as useful to its patrons.
You can gather that an author who loves libraries so much she wants to marry them will vote in their favor this election. Will other library supporters show up? And how will UK libraries stay open through the next round of budget cuts?
Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.