In the wake of the realization that the Prime Minister has no idea what's happening in his own back yard, let alone the rest of the country, CILIP has written to him to develop publicly funded libraries. It's a good time to really push home the message that Cameron doesn't want to hear, which is that the library service is in extreme danger.
However, having read the statement, I have to say that I think it's not going to have the desired effect, not by a long way. You can read the entire thing yourself by following the previous link, but I'll pull out some of the statements in order to examine them in a little more detail. Nick Poole (who I have a huge amount of respect for) says:
"The impact of reductions in centrally-distributed funds to Local Government has already been profound for the Nation’s publicly-funded libraries and is likely to become critical after the Budget statement on the 25th November."
Passive, passive, passive. It WILL become even more critical than it already is. We are already in a situation where hollowed out services give the impression that library services are managing when in actual fact they are being destroyed from the inside out. The Prime Minister needs to understand that a volunteer run library is not a library. He further needs to understand that an attack on a library is a direct attack on the people within the community - the children who need to get their homework done in the library because they don't have one at school - the library as a safe place for people without any where else - the refugees learning English, the unemployed, the people without computer access at home who rely on a library service to give them a window into the world. The Prime Minister needs to be reminded of Birmingham's Central Library, and how that is being damaged so soon after it's opening. The Prime Minister isn't interested 'profound' or 'likely' - he works on extremes. We need to make it crystal clear that under his government(s) the library service is being destroyed.
"Our best estimates show that as many as 200 public libraries have closed since 2008 and many hundreds more are being forced to make short-term decisions to transition into community-led models the sustainability of which remains an open question without appropriate planning or support."
I'm sorry, but estimates don't mean much. Another weak statement. "200 and more public libraries have closed since 2008." Stronger, and more definite. Saying 'our best estimates' simply illustrates that CILIP doesn't actually KNOW how many libraries have closed. The PM is going to look at that and really wonder if we have any handle on what is happening at all. The phrase 'which remains an open question' again illustrates that we don't KNOW what's going to happen with volunteer, community led models. I'm sorry, but we do know exactly what's going to happen, because we've seen it happening time and time again. The libraries fail. Moving into 'community led models' doesn't save libraries, it merely delays their closure. This has to be spelled out in far stronger, more impassioned language.
Further on we go:
"1000’s of qualified librarians have either lost their jobs or find themselves at risk of redundancy – a permanent loss of professional skills that will do profound and lasting damage to Britain’s future as a globally-competitive Knowledge Economy."
How many thousands? Rough estimates will not interest the Prime Minister. If we don't know, and I fully accept that it's virtually impossible to, we need a better figure and a stronger approach. The PM doesn't care about risks of redundancy - if he did he would have done something about it in other areas. No, no, no. We need to illustrate what happens when we lose librarians. 'The loss of skilled information professionals has already damaged library services and the communities they serve. If Britain is to compete in a future globally competitive Knowledge Economy we need more well trained professionals who can teach the general population, can assist local businesses make better and more informed choices, provide children with more access to the digital world. Librarians can help propel us forward, not only in a cultural sense, but in a very real economic sense. More professionals lead to a better, more powerful economy, while a reduction in their numbers leaves the entire country the weaker for it.'
"I need hardly point out that the likely outcome of further significant savings passed on to Local Government in the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget will trigger an avalanche of short-term decisions and further redundancies and is likely to put the Public Library Network itself – long the beating heart of our communities, a foundation of Britain’s education, equality and social mobility and a central pillar of our economic future – at risk."
You do have to point it out, and do so strongly. Lose concepts like 'likely outcomes'. I'm not interested in likely - and neither is the PM. We are the professionals, CILIP is the body, and it needs to make it a damn sight clearer than likely. Tell it like it is CILIP! 'We will see further, and increasingly damaging cuts that cannot be reversed. Our education system has already been damaged by library closures, the equality and social mobility of our citizens is being reduced, and our local businesses are struggling to compete.'
"While we recognise the Government’s aim to reduce public expenditure, it is essential to recognise that library services are often one of the smallest expenditure items in Council budgets but that they unlock a tremendous range of benefits including improved literacy and attainment, improved health and wellbeing, digital literacy and employability."
This is great, but if we're reminding the government about what it needs to do, let's make the point that Ed Vaizey isn't doing any of it. How about making it clear that he has done nothing to fight library closures, and moreover, he's not talking to CILIP. We all know *why* he isn't, but that's beside the point. The PM needs to know that decisions are being taken without proper consultation with the appropriate professional bodies.
"...it is all too possible that the legacy of your Government may be a network of hollowed-out services, delivering only the most basic of library functions and failing to meet the reasonable expectations of the public."
Sorry CILIP - 'all too possible'? Get rid of that for starters. The legacy of the government will be hollowed out services, damaged communities, closed libraries that will never, ever open again, increased illiteracy and more citizens for whom a computer is a closed magical black box.
Nick then goes on to talk about some good stuff about working together to promote libraries, all of which is good stuff. However, there's another line here that just doesn't work:
"We urge you to work with the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Local Government Association to recognise the importance of libraries, to protect them as far as possible in the forthcoming budget"
That's the language of the defeated. Anything that's protected as far as possible isn't protected at all. Yes, I know that there are plenty of other services that are being wrecked, and that's appalling. However, we need to protect our own at this point. We need to state, in far, far stronger terms that not only do libraries need complete protection, but in order to create more jobs, better educated citizens, increased literacy (both written and digital), more confident communities, better informed local businesses we need to expand the library service. By starting with the assumption that we're going to be cut back it's inevitable that we will be.
I understand that the language being used in the letter has to be tempered. However, I can also tell you that if Cameron actually reads what Nick has written I'd be astonished. It's going to get flung across to Vaizey who will then ignore it, or continue with the usual platitudes. We need strong, vibrant powerful language for everyone else. The letter needs to be in the Bookseller, professional press, local newspapers and so on. We need to demonstrate that we care about the library service, the information professionals and our communities. We need to be strident in pointing out that better library services lead to better communities, and every penny we put into a library service pays us back time and time again. We should not be ashamed or embarrassed of our passion. We should not stand politely at the door of Number 10 hoping to be noticed by one of the PM's aides. We need to be there hammering on the door, demanding to be let it. If we don't show the passion, if we don't shout louder and louder, if we don't make it clear to our communities that we are fighting for them then we deserve to lose everything we have.
CILIP - you need to do more. You need to be passionate. You need to be vocal. You need to be seen to be standing up - if not for the Prime Minister, but for your members, their library services, and most of all, for their communities.