“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” – Andrew Carnegie
There are many reasons why public libraries are an important service to maintain in the face of the austerity agenda currently sweeping across these Isles. A primary one is the opportunity they extend to children to access a wide range of books. As one parent who has contacted our Facebook campaign page has told us, “the library provides an essential resource for developing not only my daughter’s education but also her social interaction, communication skills, respect & understanding of community. Closing libraries destroys communities & relationships as well as undermining education & causes corrosive social isolation.”
Not only this, libraries provide a crucial link toward digital inclusion. This is a matter of social justice and especially important at a time of high un- and underemployment, when people are scrambling for employment opportunities and require the use of the internet in order to access these opportunities. This is especially the case for people living in more rural communities where many of these closures are mooted. Closing these libraries effectively levies a tax on people in these communities as they will be forced to take public transport to libraries in the larger towns of Fife. And believe us when we say public transport in Fife is not cheap – this will place an enormous strain on already stretched budgets for those in the position of relying on social security payments and who rely on internet access at local libraries.
This is before we even consider the cost of books to people and the saving we all make when we invest together in public borrowing opportunities – access to knowledge – and this is something we cannot put a price on. At a much more fundamental level libraries are a site of cultural enrichment and there is no economic price we can realistically place on them. They are a ‘soft target’ – and one of the first places to come into the cross-hairs in a time of economic stringency. Institutions such as libraries provide a focal point for communities and communities with resources such as libraries are that much stronger with them and can provide a platform to bounce back from economic downturns. Libraries are one of the few community spaces we have left, a place where people can come together – and libraries provide all sorts of services beyond books and access to computers. Many of the libraries in Fife have book clubs, provide book ‘prescriptions’ for people with health issues, children’s groups and IT training sessions – facilities and services which appeal to people of every age. They bring people together. They are part of the fabric that creates that thing called society which we will lament when it is gone. Austerity is a very real threat to that and the closure of libraries is one part of a greater struggle – and an important one at that.
Members of Common Weal Fife decided to get involved as the closure of libraries is ultimately an issue of social justice, the fundamental issue which our group is motivated by. It was also identified as an issue which transcends political boundaries and unites the communities involved. Young and old, parents, single people, working people and unemployed (for various reasons) – the closure of our public libraries affects everyone as has been shown by the enormous range of people who have contacted us with support. Why should our public services suffer for the economic mismanagement of those at the top? Why should a key site of cultural enrichment come into the firing line because of the behaviour and failures of the people who caused economic catastrophe? Bottom line – it shouldn’t.
If people want to get involved you can sign our petition or ‘like’ our Facebook page and get in touch with us if you can lend a hand – we are always looking for support and testimonials from library users in Fife – how they use the library and what it would mean to them if it closed. There are many groups and individuals supporting the campaign – youth parliamentarians, local councillors, the local SSP branch as well as the huge support we have received on our Facebook page and the petition site. We are enormously grateful for the support so far. We are out and about across Fife over the next month at various summer public events with the petition so if people want to get involved they can get in touch with us. The consultation period has already started and closes in August so there is not much time left.
Libraries provide and generate a different kind of ‘value’ to that which our current system likes to measure. This is something that goes beyond economics and is impossible to measure accurately. It’s about enlightenment, it’s about culture, it’s about knowledge and it’s about a notion of that slippery concept ‘community’. These are things which should be jealously guarded – especially at a time of austerity as it’s these things that we can all celebrate – rich and poor, young and old, whatever our backgrounds and whatever our circumstances. Where austerity divides us, these things can unite us all.