National Library Campaign Update

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This is a general heads up. After the fantastic 2,500 strong National Demonstration for Libraries, Museums and Galleries, we are now planning a series of regional marches starting in Warrington which faces drastic library cuts. The local campaigners are looking at dates, depending on when the council plans to press forward with its plans. Please be prepared to pull out all the stops to support this initiative. We want all public sector campaigns to rally around this issue.

Report

On Saturday, November 5th, the National March for Libraries, Museums and Galleries drew a good crowd, estimated between two thousand and two thousand five hundred people in press reports.

Initiated by local trade union branches representing public sector workers in the cultural services and library campaigners, the march drew library staff, members of the public, workers in museums, galleries, archives and the arts, trade unionists, authors and illustrators. It surpassed the organisers’ expectations.

On a bright, crisp autumn morning, supporters including campaigners from Warrington, Swindon, Coventry, Merseyside, the North East, Wales and elsewhere gathered near the British Library to hear speeches from Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell, Warrington, Swindon and Coventry campaigners, authors Philip Ardagh and Alan Gibbons and others.

A lively march weaved its way through central London to Trafalgar Square where speakers included the legendary Ralph, eleven-year-old Barnet campaigner, poet Steve Tasane, Clara Paillard, President of the PCS Culture Sector, Kathleen Smith from Bromley Unite, Barnet Unison members striking to save local libraries, poet and broadcaster Michael Rosen, Douniazed Zaouche from the French trade union, the CGT, Paula Peters from the disabled campaign group DPAC, Zita Holbourne from Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, Sara Wayid from the Museums Association, Sarah Kasab of Unite, a representative of the Durham Teaching Assistants, Bob and Roberta Smith, Cathy Cassidy, Sian Berry of the Green Party, Corinne Sweet of the Writers’ Guild and Megan Dobney from the South East Region of the TUC .

For years the Department of Culture Media and Sport has hidden behind the funding arrangement for the cultural sector which leaves councils in charge, but operating within nationally determined funding and strategic planning. This allows central government to step back and say, mischievously: “Not down to us, people. It is all the responsibility of those wicked councils.”

Added to this, cuts have fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of the large metropolitan councils, most likely to be run by the Labour Party. Saturday’s demonstration, while not absolving councils of responsibility, reminded the public that it is the government which sets overall funding and which has failed consistently to provide leadership. Ireland and New Zealand face the same severe economic conditions, but have made far fewer cuts, partly because, particularly in the case of libraries they have national plans.

Campaigners are now seeking meetings with the Culture Ministers and are actively discussing a series of regional demonstrations to further raise consciousness among the public of the havoc wrought by the failed ‘austerity agenda.’

The North West region is taking responsibility for staging the first such march and is scheduled for Warrington in the New Year. As speaker after speaker insisted, this was a qualitative gear shift in campaigning.

The campaign has only just begun.

This film gives a sense of the march:

https://vimeo.com/190425076

AN OPEN LETTER SENT TODAY FROM MIDLANDS TUC CREATIVE AND LEISURE INDUSTRIES COMMITTEE (CLIC) TO MARTIN REEVES CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF COVENTRY CITY COUNCIL.

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“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.”
                                                                                    Isaac Asimov    
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.”

                                                                                   Albert Einstein 
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. 
Signed by

Lee Barron, Regional Secretary Midlands TUC

Chris Jury, Chair, Midlands TUC Creative & Leisure Industries Committee

Save Our Libraries – Please display Our Flyer and sign the e-petition to Coventry City Council

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Flyer Save Our Libraries

Please see our Library Campaign Flyer via the link at the start of this message.

Please sign the e-petition to @coventrycc Coventry City Council to save our local libraries http://epetitions.coventry.gov.uk/2015/02/against-library-closure/