On a + note


Why should we care? #3: 2011

Posted in on a + note by Admin on February 28, 2011

Why should we care?

More than 4,500 British public libraries are in deep trouble. Eight hundred are in very real danger of closing their doors in the next two months, bring the total public library closures in the last year to more than 1,200. Driven by the worldwide economic recession, British municipal councils are reducing expenditures drastically, and public libraries are seen as a “soft target” and an easy place to cut.

Action against library cuts is already taking place. Protesters symbolically emptied the shelves of several libraries, and famous authors and library supporters have spoken out against the devastation. I was particularly moved by the words of English novelist Joanna Trollope:

We know there has to be a new library strategy for these difficult times. We know some financial pruning has to take place. But why take your biggest axe to the one tree that (cheaply) gives more oxygen to the inner lives and aspirations of a whole county – especially its disadvantaged – than any other?

How did this happen?
• Folks became complaisant! The 1964 public library legislation was allowed to decay and become unenforceable.
• British libraries have not embraced necessary change to remain relevant in the lives of the traditional customer and essential to the new techno-savvy customer.
• Consolidation into more financially viable units has been fought by the library community for years. Now, funders are leading the process and not in ways the library community wants.

Why should we in North America care?
• For all of the same reasons that we care and defend libraries in our own neighborhoods: universal access to information, support of the needy, the cradle of democracy, support of lifelong learning.
• “There, for the grace of God, go I.” If it happens in Britain, it could happen in our own backyard if we stop moving ahead, embracing change, staying relevant, and telling the library story over and over again.

As tough as it is to watch the British library community struggle, it is an object lesson from which library leaders must watch and learn.

Kitty Pope
kpope@library.guelph.on.ca #3 February/11

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