Cambridgeshire: seat of learning, county of libraries. If you attend the university. Otherwise, sod you. Cambridgeshire: home of the library on its' last legs. If you love your local library, visit it now, it may be gone by morning.
Before I begin my rant, let me say I am partisan. I was a university, then a secondary school librarian before I became a teacher. I have seen first hand what a good library can do. Go back 15 years and see me in an Inner London school, surrounded by kids unpacking books they had chosen themselves for the shelves from a chaotic trip to Borders (now also gone). Hear the excitement as they shout "I chose this one! Miss, can I have it out first?" Every lunchtime there is a semi-chaotic rush to the cosy corner, where year 7 boys gape at the Guiness Book of Record man with the long fingernails, and I and my assistant rush round answering late homework queries and showing kids that Miss can find it quicker than Google. There is a thriving book club, a comic appreciation society and a team of willing library helpers. Boys read, not just girls. I've taught them about plagarism, they've had sessions of library learning. I run GCSE and AS/A2 revision and coursework sessions. Childrens authors and a beat poet come to visit. The library is not just for swots, it is for everyone, but it seems, sometimes, especially for those bookish, quiet kids who are shy and nervous, as I once was. When I eventually leave to train to be a teacher, my helpers hand me a video they have made, showing kids explaining what the library has meant to them. I cry.
Now fastforward to 2010. Cambridgeshire has no School Library Service. Schools can opt out of having a library.Use the public library then? Only if it's open. Hours are reduced. Speak to a librarian to help you find that book? Nope, they've all been laid off, instead it's a self service issue terminal, which confuses the older users who always used to get served by Cath, who is now redundant. You don't even get a stamp in your book, just a ticket. It's hard for some people to read, so the books goes oeverdue. The fines have gone up. Finding a book is even harder in the first place, as with no librarians, the shelving is done by volunteers. It's all over the place, Dewey is not their strong point and there isn't anyone to train them. The mobile service is non-existant, there is a charge for large print books. Volunteers are relied on to deliver books to the elderly. This is what the Cambridgeshire Council are doing. This is what "Big Society" means. It means my kids won't have a Rhyme Time with Joan, or a Reading scheme over the Summer. It means they won't get a cheery "Hello Stella" from Cath who recognises them. Seth and Stella won't get to discuss books with a librarian who cares. I won't get the books she puts aside for me because she knows I will like them. The library will be a building, with books in. I will cry. Then I will root out my heaviest encyclopaedia and march to Downing Street, where I will use is heavily against the side of Cleggs head for being such a sodding little twerp and abandoning ANY liberal tendencies he once had, before finishing off Cameron and stamping on him, with the last remaining library stamp, "withdrawn".
For further info on the horrors of cuts round the country on library services, see this blog by childrens' author and library activist, Alan Gibbons , and here at the Bookseller. You can protest by answering the questionnaire in local libraries about the proposed cuts, and write to your local, unfortunately Conservative, MP Steve Barclay. There is also a group of people protesting on "Cambridgeshire against the cuts" here.