Saturday 22 January 2011

Reading Between The Lines

"Okay, you can take my picture, as long as I'm reading an intelligent book!" I said to Bill, the photographer from the EDP. So I picked up a copy of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, and sat down.

This was in Southwold Library on Tuesday. Yesterday the Southwold Journal ran a front page article Save Our Libraries and I appeared inside, though you can't see what book I'm reading.

Suffolk County Council have drawn up a list of 29 (out of 44) libraries to be closed as part of their "divestment" of public services programme, unless community groups and local councils can come up with a way of taking them on - part of the so-called "Big Society". (Norfolk though is to keep all its libraries.)

I go to our local library a lot. I use the computers for research, to check emails (no internet at home) and to look for jobs. The head librarian is (another) Charlotte. She runs a superb ship with Lynne, Sue and sometimes Ann.

Our library is visited by everyone, the poor, the rich, the lonely, families, the old, the young, the unemployed using the computers to seek work. Our libraries are for everyone. They are part of the public good, and they work because they are run by professional and experienced librarians.

A 'divested' library in the hands of volunteers as per the Big Society would be something else. The word 'voluntary' implies you can turn up to 'work' or not as you see fit. It's not your livelihood, so unless you’re utterly committed and treat it as a real job, you'll be doing it for other reasons, which may be noble but won't be professional. It is not the same focus. And it won’t be the same library.

I bumped into the reporter for Archant newspapers, who own the EDP, EADT and the local journals, THREE times on the day of the photograph – in the library, the street and on the bus (what is happening to our rural bus services is for another post!). “People in the street are saying they don’t want the library to close," she said, "but they don’t want me to mention them by name.”

I said my name was Mark Watson and that all of us whether we use the libraries or not need to look at the fact that besides being invaluable for books, CDs, DVDs and the internet, they are vital hubs of social interaction. Like the drop-in centres and shelters for people with mental illness or nowhere to live, which are also under threat. Where will people go to connect with others? As part of belonging to the place we live in?

Bungay Library is also threatened, and by extension the community garden which Sustainable Bungay and the Librarians have created together over the past eighteen months. (See the Grand Opening on YouTube here). Children from the local school planted the first spring bulbs last Autumn, and they are now coming up.

The people making the decisions to cut these services are not the ones relying on or using them. And they are too distant from them to really empathise or care about it.

Recently the Transition Network decided after much consideration not to endorse the Big Society (see Rob Hopkins' illuminating report here) as it currently stands. Transition Initiatives should not have to take up the slack from the government's public service pending cuts. In particular whilst little or no real provision is being made to address Climate Change or Peak Oil. But also because the present government's actions show a complete lack of empathy and equity in its dealings with people.

And that's why each of us needs to make the effort and increase these qualities in ourselves and with each other. Then there might just be a tipping point. A real shift in cultural values.

Banner: EADT front page Friday 21 Jan; Me and an Invisible Tipping Point in Southwold Library, and Save Our Libraries, Southwold Journal Fri 21 Jan


  1. ! agree completely!

    If there is anyone in Suffolk who already has, or is thinking about setting up a local campaign to keep their library open, I'd like to hear from you to exchange ideas and build the county-wide movement.