Saturday, 25 September 2010

Kiss your librarian and say goodbye.

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.


Jan said...

Books from Library's are and have always been ,'a way of life ' for us ,but like most everything good and useful ,cut it ,seems to be the phrase every where you look ,change hmm! not always for the best Jan xx

Grit said...

i hope cambridgeshire people yell mad like hell.

libraries are the oxygen we need, and i have never met a thinking person who thought we could do away with them.

and because money drives all decision making i hope you form an action group of guerilla librarians. do something - book crossings for kids, book tables at school gates, book protest groups - take the ground back, on your own terms, and make it something that money can't touch.

Roy said...

Hi Sheridan

Now Now Miss, such violent tendencies you have towards your countries leaders.{:)

We had a nice Library converted from and old building in Peterborough a few years ago. Now its full everyday of Asylum Seekers who have sod all else to do all day but congregate on all the seats in and around the shelves. They certainly arn't there to the read the books.
Thank God for Waterstones, oh! and Broadband.

faye said...

Our library, in our small market town, is fantastic and I can't imagine it not being there. I feel as though, with the new government, such things are going to drop like flies.
You obviously know about books. I have nearly finished Ayn Rand's 'The Fountainhead' and have really enjoyed it, though perhaps not completely agreeing with underlying themes. I need a bit of variation before moving onto Atlas Shrugged, do you have any recommendations? I only get to read for a few minutes in bed, before I drop off, so it can be light or heavy, just worth reading.

Mummy Zen said...

That's a depressing story of your public library! I'm glad ours has not declined like that (yet). Ours is really well-used it seems and offers lots to local residents; sessions for children, workshops for adults and there are always people in there. It's a great local resource.

thekidsmum said...

Hi Sheridan, I was both interested and sad to read your blog. I live in London and at the moment our library seems to be safe. We still have a good kids section and the librarians are endlessly patient with my boys who are really much more interested in meddling with the dewey system than reading the books. Libraries are such special places, I have spent many a happy hour in the British Library, London Library, Cambridge Uni Library etc. and although I'm sure these institutions are safe, many people will never get through the door if they don't get the chance grow up with a local library (and librarian). My Mum took me to ours every week when I was a little 'un in the 70s. I hate this idea that volunteers can take over everything. It undermines the fact that these are proper, skilled jobs that should be respected.