Regular libraries users are facing a virtual pay cut as libraries are threatened. A report with the catchy title of Quantifying and Valuing the Wellbeing Impacts of Culture and Sport, issued by the Department for Culture and Sport, reported that library users enjoy a sense of well-being equivalent to a pay rise of £1,395 a year. Engagement with the arts adds another £1,084 a year. Every woman, man and child is threated by further public sector cuts with reductions equivalent to almost £2,500 a year. (Thanks to The Author, Summer 2014 edition for this information.)
We have been told that the price of austerity is worth paying. That was the Chancellor George Osborne. He and his party are not necessarily the best judges of that and some of us doubt that they are paying any price. Economic analysts suggest that the burden of the Coalition cuts falls most heavily on the poor (and women, but that’s not my focus today).
What is more risible? The notion that culture and sport have wellbeing impacts? The attempt to quantify and value these so-called impacts? Or the knowledge that this ‘salary’, which you probably didn’t know you had from libraries and the arts will be cut by people who wouldn’t notice a rise or a cut of £2500? It is certainly not amusing that 49 branches have closed in the last 12 months.
We have been warned that there will be more cuts to public services and we know that libraries are an easier target than care for older people, holes in the roads and so forth. So Beware! Let’s remind ourselves and others of the value of libraries, and not in the language of impacts or equivalent salaries.
Access to books is a cornerstone of our cultural development and enrichment. Libraries open the door to so much. So many writers acknowledge their debt to libraries. (See my previous post.) Children especially need access to the world opened by books and other library services. Share what Neil Gaiman said about this and so well.
And prisoners in our stuffed and under-staffed jails also need access to libraries. Much of the recent campaign for Books for Prisoners by the Howard League and English Pen related to access to books and the importance of these in prisoners’ lives. One account about the value to prisoners that moved me is by Russ Litten: What better way to rehabilitate than to read?
But library usage is declining according to the report from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountability(CIPFA) published 11.12.14. Is this a function of restricted access, or other restrict ions imposed by austerity (less money, fewer trips to town, fewer visitis to libraries) or a sign of a nation in cultural decline? Look at the graphics on this Guardian article dated 10.12.14.
Take action. Use libraries, celebrate them, support them and if necessary protect them!
How I earned my £1,395 or My library use in the last 12 month.
- 12% of the books I have read have come from the library.
- I frequently use the very valuable and efficient on-line reservation service.
- I have ordered hardback books when I can’t wait for the paperback version.
- I have borrowed books that I didn’t think I wanted to own, for example for the book group I belong to.
- And I have reserved books on spec, perhaps they were recommended on another blog, or in the review pages of literary publications, or were short/long-listed for literary prizes, or recommended in one of those innumerable book conversations.
- The best library book (and I’m still waiting for it to come out in paperback, when I will buy it) is Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk. It won the Samuel Johnson non-fiction prize, and I reviewed it here.
- One or two books went back unread. My TBR pile clashed with other readers’ requests, or I lost interest in the book.
- One of my writing groups was started by the librarian just over a year ago and now runs smoothly, encouraged and facilitated every two weeks in library premises.
- The poetry group I attend is also supported by the library.
Nice work if you can get it! I earn my £1,395 a year at the library!
Any thoughts to add about libraries and access to books?
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