The fight for libraries

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In response to Jack Scott’s letter ‘The Benefits of Libraries’.

Massive cuts are not the only things that have turned 15 of Sheffield’s former libraries into volunteer-run book exchanges.

Jack Scott’s version of democracy has failed to call that ‘austerity’ to account, allowing a situation caused by the rampant greed of profiteering entities around the world to be turned back to front so that libraries get the flak for the world’s social crisis.

Councillors like Jack Scott are lending truth to that lie with every word they utter and type. Yes, we have to change how we manage our services – we have to ensure that people like Jack Scott are not allowed to ruin them.

FOI figures obtained from Sheffield City Council show a massive dip in the use of volunteer book exchanges (formerly libraries), when measured against the standard method used by publicly accountable libraries – so much for libraries being a ‘priority’.

The jobs of hard-working librarians were not Jack Scott’s priority. Maintaining a publicly accountable library service was not his priority.

This happened despite the people of the city indicating overwhelmingly that they do not want volunteer libraries to replace a publicly accountable library network in Sheffield, shown in the thousands of people signing petitions against volunteer-led libraries and the numbers showing up to protest at council meetings.

Sheffield Communities Against Library Privatisation (SCALP) argue that consultation was not extensive and that words presented as ‘fact’ to people were misleading at best, in that the harsh implications of a volunteer-run service were not laid out, the full background to the state’s rationale for austerity was not laid out, nor were the alternatives to that ‘austerity’.

All options were not investigated; people working in the library service knew the council had decided as far back as 2011 that libraries would be one of the first services to be cut and that volunteers would be ‘groomed’ into position through a process of coercion and fear.

Most of the libraries put into volunteer hands are in poorer parts of the city that are scared of losing any more amenities.

These parts of the city deserve the best library service possible, not the method of last resort foisted on them yet again by a council they have elected to deliver the best service on the basis of needs, location and population.

The fact that volunteer-run book exchanges do not have to monitor use in the same way as publicly accountable libraries suggests that any effusive claims by volunteers or councillors as to the ‘success’ of volunteer-run book exchanges lie outside the realms of rational methodology and can only be taken as mere hearsay, perhaps even ‘hype’.

Jack Scott does not even give thanks to all the professional librarians who have lost their jobs because of the council’s decisions, nor does he thank those librarians who are still working hard to ensure at least some of Sheffield’s libraries deliver the service the city deserves.

Nor does he thank Sheffield people for continuing to fight for their library service.

David Kirkham

SCALP