Speak up for Libraries conference – a report back

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A report back from Lynn Gregory, Chairperson of FoLoB

This years conference was fully booked weeks ago testimony to the continuing attacks on the Library Service by central government with their continuing Austerity policies. There was a good range of areas represented. In my workshop alone there were librarians from Chester,  Sussex, Loughborough, Portsmouth, Norfolk, Gloucester, Lambeth, Wigan and Brighton and Hove.

The best part of the conference was the opportunity to talk to other people about what was happening in their areas. Some authorities have already gone down the Mutual road and there was a mixed message about whether this could be a possible way of saving the remains of the library service. The Norfolk model was taken as an example of better practise.

There was a pretty negative response to the use of volunteers in the library service- a lot of people having already had experience of how this works – usually a shortcut to a further rundown of the service.

There was quite a lot of discussion of what a statutory service should be and these questions were put to a panel of 2 MP’s, Justin Tomlinson for the Tories, Helen Goodman from Labour and a member of the Green Party. The Green Party came off best with a lot of talk of social inclusion and libraries being central to this. The Tory said it was up to the local areas to see what worked best-central government could give no prescriptions. The Labour MP took a position between the two, rather too many vague statements about general support for libraries but not much detail.

The best speech of the day was from the author Alan Gibbons who gave a rousing talk and clearly linked austerity to the attack on the poorest communities. In his town, Liverpool, 11 out of 18 libraries were threatened with closure. A demonstration of 500 was followed by 2 others held in the city centre and the council has withdrawn the threat. A good person to get to speak at a meeting in Birmingham perhaps?

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