Roy Clare, head of the Museums Libraries and Archives Council wrote on a public libraries mailing list last weekend, talking about the MLA’s involvement with local authorities who are at risk of breaching the Public Libraries and Museums Act. The council have informed us that they are “working closely” with the MLA, so it may be safe to assume that Doncaster Council is one of those authorities. This is worrying, because Mr. Clare has already expressed a willingness to see councils propose library closures and sees it as an act of “political courage“. We hope that Mr. Clare has not supported Doncaster’s proposals, given that the council has completely failed to assess community needs.
In his message, Clare also says:
Public libraries will not be preserved by wishful thinking and aspic. Strive to thrive; recognise the width and breadth of the social opportunities and fight hard to nourish change and embrace development that can serve the whole community, not simply the privileged, mainly white, middle class. These are perspectives that too few commentators – whether journalists or campaigners – care to hear about, still less to understand.
The Daily Mail cover Clare’s message on page 42 of today’s paper, and online here.
This message is deeply frustrating for Save Doncaster Libraries, a campaign group made up of a wide variety of people from many different backgrounds and areas of Doncaster. It is, indeed, one of our strengths. We are able to use the experience, insight and knowledge of the whole group, at the same time as harnessing the expert knowledge of the qualified librarians and trained library staff within our ranks, along with valuble input from our supporters, to challenge the proposals made by the council and point out where they have failed to provide proposals for a comprehensive and efficient statutory library service.
At no point has Save Doncaster Libraries suggested that Doncaster’s library service remain as it is – a failing, diminished and undervalued service. We are fighting for quite the opposite, and recognise that libraries must meet the needs of their communities. However, in order for libraries to meet the needs of the communities, they need to exist as stationary branches with unbiased, wide-ranging, appropriate resources, and qualified and expert staff. The closure of the majority of Doncaster’s libraries, many of which are in deprived parts of the town with poor quality of life and low educational attainment, is not the way to serve the whole community. It is also important to highlight that fact that public libraries offer free, universal access to information, learning and culture, for everyone. They are the cornerstone of democracy, and as such, should remain at the heart of communities. Doncaster Council has much work to do to instil a sense of civic pride in its citizens and encourage engagement. This is a role played by public libraries around the world; ripping the educational and cultural heart out of its villages can only have the opposite effect.