Sunday, 6 February 2011

Demonstrating Against Library Cuts

Yesterday I joined a small but significant number of people showing their support for Lambeth Library staff, and Libraries themselves, for whom the axe of council cutbacks is a very real threat. Apparently, Lambeth has already stopped its mobile library service.

It's actually difficult to see exactly what people can do about library closures. In other parts of the country there have been instances of taking books out en masse to demonstrate support. Others have had read-ins - I'm told one Lambeth Library had a 'ssh-in'. Herein lies the problem with library demonstrations. Libraries are places which not only symbolise but practice Democracy's core idea of access and social transaction as a source of mutual benefit. There is no built-in hierarchy, no consumer demand to fulfil or profit* to protect. To interfere with that to make a point, as one might with a private company, doesn't inconvenience those for whom the point is intended. One might just as well demand a refund for a late bus from everyone else in the bus queue.

No, the point of a library, like all really good social ideas, isn't always something that can be evinced on a balance sheet. The author Toby Litt, speaking at yesterday's demonstration said something brilliantly succint about what a library is for:
The open doors of a library say 'you are welcome in society'.
Yes, the open doors of a library tell you that there is no obligation, no impediment. The content is open to one to benefit from and to recycle as one goes back out, nourished, into society at large if and when it pleases.

Moreover's it's a place where this can happen, where the social transaction is manifest, palpable. I was really surprised at my own shock to hear a librarian talk about the threat to his job, our services and the irresponsibility of the banking sector in creating the economic vacuum that has caused the circumstances of the demonstration. Shock, as I had never seen anyone directly affected speaking publicly, live before. There, on the steps of the library, it's real, it has meaning. The library is the concrete reassurance of our tax-commitment to one another in action; our 'subscription to a civilised society', as Polly Toynbee calls it, actually civilising.

*There are costs involved in the borrowing of audio-visual media, but these are more than competitive with video-rental outlets and rental schemes, so I would encourage making use of them. I'm taking part in a blogger-diaspora's forum on the Bond films over the next two years, BlogalongaBond, which requires re-watching all the film of the franchise, rather like a cinematic book club. I will be taking DVDs out of London libraries rather than buying them in an attempt to redirect this cash flow. Or dribble, I suppose.

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