Library launch shines a light on cuts to treasured public service
This week I was fortunate to attend the opening of a new library. But before you get excited, this happy event did not herald an end to public service cuts disingenuously hinted at during the Tory Party conference.
Community celebrations tend to attract the attention of local MPs. But Sheryll Murray, who represents (I use the term loosely) South East Cornwall, was nowhere to be seen at Upton Cross. I wonder why. Was it because this micro-library in the parish hall was only necessary because her party’s savage cuts to public services caused the closure of a popular and well-used library across the road in the village school?
The new library has been achieved through the dedication of local people, working hard for their community. I went along partly because such community spirit deserves to be celebrated, and partly because libraries were a huge influence in my formative years. I learned much from them – and there’s no doubt that without them I wouldn’t be doing what I am today.
I didn’t go to university, and the truth is I didn’t spend much time at school either – at least not after juniors. I was one of those gazing-outof-the-window boys. Consequently I left school without any qualifications to speak of. It was only at 16, when I left school behind for good, that the “proper” full of dusty Penguins, the subjects denoted by colour: orange for fiction, blue for science, green for crime, pink for travel, red for plays, purple for politics, etc.
For myself, growing up in 1960s and 1970s Redruth and Penzance, I was also very fortunate in that both towns had fantastic libraries, with well-stocked and well-staffed reference departments where anyone could indulge any interest. For free!
Would a similar young chap today have the same breadth of access to books as I did? Not a chance. Of course, there’s Wiki, but it isn’t the same as spreading open an impossibly expensive art book on a wide table and viewing Renaissance masterpieces or prehistoric cave paintings or Robert
The fact is libraries allowed boys like me to ask questions about the world and find answers. Or as someone clever said: “Once a child learns to use a library, the doors to learning are always open.”
If nothing else, libraries are a mark of a civilised society. And that’s why their deliberate downgrading and underfunding by this government is unforgivable. The destructive dogma of austerity has resulted in more than 8,000 job losses, huge funding cuts, and almost 500 library closures. Why? Because local councils are starved of central government funding – and libraries are seen as the least unacceptable sacrifice.
But in the world’s sixth richest country, it’s sad that such a civilising institution is no longer valued by the likes of Sheryll Murray MP, who has consistently voted for these savage cuts to our treasured public institutions.
That’s why the Upton Cross launch was a rare and happy and optimistic occasion – a day to be celebrated. We need more libraries – not fewer – and the election of a government which recognises that fact.