Campaigners express “cautious optimism” as new library strategy published
Lifestyle / Mon 29th Nov 2021 at 07:54am
CAMPAIGN group Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) has responded to the new Essex County Council (ECC) draft strategy for libraries that was published last Friday (26th November).
The campaign, instrumental in preventing the imminent closure of a third of the county’s libraries in 2019, is now calling on the Deputy Council Leader Louise McKinley to assure residents plans for what it called “charity shop libraries” have been “shelved”.
“Compared to previous strategies – which do not exactly raise the bar too high – we hope there can be some cautious optimism about the new strategy” said a SOLE spokesperson. “In particular last year the previous portfolio holder with responsibility for libraries, Sue Barker, was boasting that Essex County Council was going to set up the country’s biggest network of so-called ‘community libraries’ . Or as they more appropriately should have been called – charity shop libraries – where library buildings were going to be sold off and professional staff got rid of. With volunteers doing the lot, both housing and running their local library.”
“We welcome that charity shop libraries are not mentioned at all in the new strategy. However, it’s time for Councillor McKinley to assure the people of Essex that this particular closure plan by stealth really has been shelved. Volunteers have an important role to play in extending the current service, rather than replacing it.”
“There remain areas that may strike alarm bells. For instance Essex County Council still seems very keen on libraries sharing their spaces with other services and other organisations. Which means a shrinkage of library space, and perhaps even creates an atmosphere that damages what a library should be, such as when the post office moved into Prettygate Library in Colchester. Replacing the half of a million books the council has withdrawn in the last decade is also not being addressed. Paper books will remain vitally important It’s still how by far the vast majority of people pick up their leisure reading.”
“There are plenty of fine words, but no particular strategy for how goals will be achieved. Apparently engagement with users and potential users will be increased, but how will that happen for those not online? Does it bode confidence that there are no paper copies of the draft strategy or its survey in our libraries?”
“We will be hosting an online public forum next month to enable supporters and the public to discuss the plans in more detail. In the meantime we urge everybody to read the strategy and complete the survey. Ultimately the devil will be in the detail of the strategy’s final publication next year.”
I skim read the survey, I will go back and read it in more detail. The overwhelming feeling I got from it was that volunteers were far more valued than official library staff. It sang the praises of volunteers but actual paid staff it said it wanted them to be highly skilled and suggested they needed training - I consider that they already are highly skilled and the libraries wouldn’t function without their knowledge or customer service.
Burning books, destroying ancient writings and undervaluing access to books and literacy (fearing the spread of knowledge) is a feature of ignorance and extreme regimes. Where will it end, might our great grandchildren be told "They started by closing the libraries .... "
Novo, perhaps you should stop reading 1984. It’s a little Orwellian to think that the UK government is at all interested in closing libraries and “burning books” - if they wanted to stunt knowledge, and stop people from free thinking they’d do it by targeting the internet, it holds more knowledge than any library ever could.