The third National Libraries Day took place on Saturday 8 February.
Local libraries held celebrations which included author readings, poetry sessions, business advice classes and children’s storytelling.
As a library worker and avid borrower who got my first library card as a toddler, I love to see libraries being celebrated, but I was not in the party mood for a “celebration”.
Cuts to local government funding have hit local libraries hard. A total of 439 libraries closed in the first three years of the Coalition government. In the same period nearly 4,000 full-time equivalent jobs have been lost from the sector. In 2014-15 budgets, 10% of libraries are currently under threat.1
Using libraries improves children’s literacy and life chances; story and rhyme times provide vital support for new parents, improving their mental health.
Libraries provide free internet access to the 23% of the population who do not have the internet at home; libraries provide access to benefits and housing advice; libraries help people find work; libraries give homeless people a place to keep warm.
Libraries give people isolated because of mental and physical health problems a chance for interaction and advice. For some people they are the only chance in a day to have a conversation. As universal spaces, libraries bring communities together and improve community cohesion; libraries save money in reducing pressure on other services and increasing employment chances for people who use them.
We need to fight for our libraries because they give us access to reading and whether you can afford them or not everybody people should have a right to books. Reading is exciting. You learn things you didn’t know before, you go places and feel things outside of your life experiences. Through stories children learn empathy and practise bravery, wisdom and friendship through their favourite characters.
Through fiction and non-fiction books we learn that things can be different, the world has not always been as it is now and we can change it.
National Libraries Day came out of Save Libraries Day; a day of protest against cuts and closures in services nationally.
Save Libraries Day saw read-ins and demonstrations, it was a day of action and fighting back.
We have seen people fighting for their libraries; the proposed closures in the Wirral sparked a huge and successful community campaign, Friern Barnet Library was occupied against closure and strike ballots were held in Greenwich and Lambeth against.
National Libraries Day is no longer a day to demonstrate, to stand up and fight for our libraries; it has morphed to a day celebrate, to stand up and cheerlead for a dying service.
If we want to save our libraries, we need to be bold. We must demonstrate, occupy and strike. We must build big, militant campaigns in our union branches, anti-cuts groups and communities. We must link up anti-cuts struggles and take a political fight against cuts across the private sector.
Unison, the union which organises the most library workers has produced a number of studies on the savage cuts to library services but is not taking the lead in the fight back against them.