Li­brary launch shines a light on cuts to trea­sured pub­lic ser­vice

Western Morning News - - News -

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

Capa pho­to­graphs.

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.

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