SHEFFIELD LIBRARIES –
UNISON CONTINUES TO FIGHT THE
INTENDED CLOSURES AND STAFF LOSSES
Public libraries are, like the NHS, a cradle to grave service, and free at the point of entry. Apart from a source of education and recreation for the older members of our society, they are also a starting point for the children of today, who will become the older people of the future. As Malorie Blackman, the Children’s Laureate has said, closing libraries is “a blow to the increased government emphasis on children’s reading and educational attainment.” She went on “without libraries, literacy would become ‘the province of the lucky few’, rather than the democratising force they are at present.” And it will be a lucky few if Sheffield City Council succeeds in closing almost half its libraries.
No small number of those who lose out will be those who rely on the threatened mobile library service, particularly those who live in Sheffield’s large rural areas. “Cutting libraries in a recession is like cutting hospitals in a plague.” says Eleanor Crumblehulme, Regional librarian for Lakeland in the USA.
Let’s not forget the increasing importance of libraries in this recession. More and more unemployed people, and those on benefits, are using their libraries to access the internet as they are expected by the government, local authorities and job centres, to look for work and apply for benefits. A significant percentage of Sheffield’s population would be completely excluded from essential services and resources.
The City Council, so it never tires of saying, has got to save money because of reduced public funding. Cuts to services and staff are being made across the Council. £1.66 million is the library service’s share of the burden. Yet suddenly the Council has announced it will put up £900,000 to facilitate the Tour de France coming to Sheffield in 2014. £900,000 that the Council supposedly hasn’t got. £900.000 that would help keep present services going. Public libraries in Sheffield have been around since 1856. The Tour de France will have come and gone in a day – and what will the city benefit from it?
UNISON is working hard in campaigning to prevent the reduction in the city’s library service, and to keep the jobs of professional and dedicated library staff. The Council is currently seeking costed expressions of interest from a variety of organisations who may be interested in running some of the city’s libraries. Some of these organisations will be commercial ones, and some not for profit groups. Clearly, libraries run by commercial organisations will be run as profit making enterprises, the book loaning side will secondary at best; and if they don’t pay their way they will be closed! Libraries run by volunteers will be dependant on the weather and the whim of the volunteer.
UNISON’s stance on this is an open book – we fight on!