Henry Ward Beecher’s quote is something I truly believe. Sadly I don’t think Kirklees Council understand it. Less than a year on from the last round of council cuts which prompted me to write about the important roles libraries play in family history, it appears with the latest council budget vote we are now on track for a cull of unprecedented proportions.
Last year, following a public consultation, Kirklees closed two of its 26 library branches. However, it ceased funding a further 14, handing them over to community groups and volunteers to run. The numbers of council staff employed in the remaining libraries were slashed and opening hours reduced. Batley library cut its weekly opening hours from 48.5 to 35 in September 2016 as a result.
This appears to be just a taster of things to come. “Public Libraries News“, in article at the end of January 2017 entitled “USA and Canada see library usage rise: 3/4 budget cuts in Walsall and Kirklees” reported Kirklees would have a £1.7m cut to the library budget 2017/18 (from £3.9m to £2.2m). This equates to £1.85m cuts from start 2016 to end 2018. This is on top of last cut of £1.8m cut in 2015/16, meaning budget cut by 72% cut in three years.
In effect, as a result of these latest cuts, we will be looking potentially at just two funded libraries (Huddersfield and Dewsbury) to serve the entire population of around 435k and rising in the Kirklees Metropolitan Council area. Arguably one of the worst library culls nationwide.
I’m not getting into the whys and wherefores for these cuts. It is undeniable that councils like Kirklees face a major central government funding recession, and Kirklees receives government funding way below the national household level. However, to quote Eleanor Crumblehulme: “Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague“.
Sadly, libraries are not seen as an essential service. Mention bins and folk are up in arms because it has a direct everyday impact on all households. Cuts to libraries, museums and parks don’t have the same impact. As a result, fewer people stand up for them in any tangible way. Councils know this. They know where the main battles lie. Libraries, and broader culture, are easy targets.
However I believe libraries must be seen as an essential community resource. They are used across all age-groups. They also have a big influence in drawing together a diverse community. In the words of Libba Bray “The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and strivings of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance“.
Libraries play a part in the Jo Cox legacy about combatting loneliness. This in turn has links to community health and well-being, with mental health being high on the political agenda. One in three adults aged 16-74 (37 per cent) with conditions such as anxiety or depression, surveyed in England, were accessing mental health treatment, in 2014. Overall, around one in six adults (17 per cent) surveyed in England met the criteria for a common mental disorder (CMD) in 2014. Around one in four people every year develop anxiety, depression or other related conditions.
Libraries have a vital role in combatting anxiety and depression. They are a window on an outside world, providing a safe, welcoming social hub. Besides the range of self-help books, they offer volunteering and socialising opportunities. They host activities, crafts, community groups and surgeries for local politicians at council and government level. They have newspapers. There are talks and a wide range of exhibitions. They offer computers, internet access, printing and photocopying. There are events for children. Batley has Memory Lane Café sessions for those experiencing dementia. In February the library hosted a bowel cancer screening information session with a GP registrar. This is the February Batley library newsletter, highlighting the wide range of services.
Libraries engender a love of books from an early age, aid literacy and afford an opportunity for learning and development, outside of school. Not every child has access to books or computers at home. Not everyone has transport or can afford to travel if their library closes. They are a repository for local history and civic pride. They, and other public amenities such as Town Halls, markets, Post Offices, Police Stations, swimming baths, technology colleges, shops and even Job Centres are things that draw people into a town centre. Start removing them and bit by bit the town centre declines, becomes delipidated, deserted and eventually a crime-ridden no-go area.
Libraries are also free. To quote Lady Bird Johnson “Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest“. And Anne Herbert was spot on when she said “Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries“.
But to get back to my key message about the Council library budget annihilation. It’s all well and good people grumbling and complaining about cuts to local services. I’ve seen many social media moans about how unfairly communities outside the central Huddersfield are treated. But how many of these people actually use their local library? By the time they wake up it will be too late. Years later they will laud the halcyon days of libraries and rue their unavailability for their children and grandchildren. But through their inactivity they shoulder the blame for this loss alongside any government or council.
So, my challenge to all those who say they value their library and community: Don’t sit back and throw sideline pebbles which achieve nothing. If you don’t want to lose your library now really is the time to show your support. Get out your library card, visit your local library, get involved, and start borrowing some books and e-books (yes libraries embrace technology). Beyond that, lobby your local Councillors. Write to your MP asking they raise the funding issue at government level. Bombard the local media with letters. Challenge. Use. Support. And do your utmost to “Save Your Library“.
My final quote is from Ray Bradbury. “Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future”
- Public Libraries News – 31 January 2017: http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com/2017/01/usa-and-canada-see-library-usage-rise-34-budget-cuts-in-walsall-and-kirklees.html
- 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey – Published September 2016: http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB21748