“I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it. Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that society has found one more way to destroy itself.”
Dear Mr Reeves
The Midlands TUC Creative & Leisure Industries Committee (CLIC) has been disturbed to hear of the proposed cuts to the libraries and museums of Coventry. The Midlands CLIC is made up of unions from across the cultural sector including BECTU, Equity, MU, NUJ, PCS, Unison, NUT, UCU and WGGB. Our purpose is to campaign in support of arts and leisure provision across the region and for an improvement in the terms and conditions of workers in the sector.
” A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.”
Henry Ward Beecher.
Industrialists like Sir Alfred Herbert in Coventry, who built the economic prosperity of the Midlands, understood the importance of culture, particularly libraries, galleries and museums, to the quality of life in the region and also to the economy and the quality of political discourse. Educated and informed democratic citizens are essential to the successful functioning of our democracy, just as an educated workforce is crucial to the regions economic success.
Formal education in schools, colleges and universities, is directed, controlled and measured. Libraries, galleries and museums complement formal education by allowing individuals (especially those of limited means) to stimulate their brains and their imaginations according to their own preferences, in other words, to be intellectually free.
In a prosperous, innovative and dynamic city, as presumably Coventry aspires to be, publicly funded libraries, museums and galleries are not an ‘optional extra’ to be discarded as soon as money gets tight, they are at the defining heart of our shared civic spaces, and without them what does the civic space of Coventry entail? Only the emptying of bins and the cleaning of the streets?
Of course Coventry City Council needs to empty the bins and clean the streets, but it also has to provide the shared civic spaces that give cultural identity to the City by enhancing education and public discourse, and attracting individuals and families to want to live and work in the city, thus attracting businesses and inward investment. The statutory provision of essential services must not be used as a reason to cut cultural civic spaces; it is only our shared cultural experiences that give the pragmatic day-to-day realities of life meaning.
“The only thing that you absolutely have to know… is the location of the library.”
The shrinking of the budgets and services of the cities libraries, galleries and museums, also disproportionately impact on the poor and disadvantaged. People like Sir Alfred Herbert understood the privilege inherent in the access to learning and culture that their wealth gave them; they sought to spread those benefits throughout society, so that both rich and poor could have access to that advantage.
It is widely recognised that rapidly escalating inequality in the UK is having terribly destructive and divisive effects on our society as a whole, not just on the poor. (See: The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better. by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.) The inevitable result of economic inequality is cultural and educational inequality. Restricting access to books, art and culture only to those who can ‘afford’ them, exponentially exacerbates inequality for only modest savings. This ultimately costs untold millions because of the negative effect cultural poverty has on health, crime and social cohesion.
Coventry is currently preparing a bid to be City Of Culture 2021; simultaneously Coventry City Council is seeking to close or outsource libraries, cutting staff and budgets at the Herbert Gallery & Museum and decimating Cultural Services across the city. The idea of Coventry as a ‘City Of Culture’ is an important one but not just for 2021.
We urge Coventry City Council to end the diminishing of public cultural facilities and services in the city. By doing so you would make a public statement about the type of city you are aspiring to build. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss how the Midlands TUC could help Coventry City Council fulfil its cultural duty to the citizens of the city and look forward to hearing from you in due course.
Lee Barron, Regional Secretary Midlands TUC
Chris Jury, Chair, Midlands TUC Creative & Leisure Industries Committee