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Libraries are a safety net, what happens when they are pulled away?

Libraries provide vital services for many vulnerable people, but with Covid and lockdown-related costs eating into already thinly-stretched council budgets, hundreds more are set to be axed, writes Allie Morgan
Libraries are often referred to as “the last safety net”. Image credit: Thamesmead Library / Flickr

Let’s try a thought experiment.

Imagine that you’re a single parent. Perhaps you already are. It’s a cold, rainy day and money’s tight. School’s off as it’s the weekend. Your children are bored, your house is cold. You want to keep your children entertained and out of trouble but you have no spare cash.

Where do you go? Imagine now that you need to apply for Universal Credit. Perhaps you already do. You need an email address to apply for benefits but you don’t have one and don’t know how to get one.

You need a place where you can use a computer for a little while and have someone knowledgeable nearby help you out. Where do you go?

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Now, imagine that you live alone. Perhaps you already do. Your vision is poor and while you do receive disability benefits, you get a lot of mail in the post. Some of it is important and can’t be ignored but it’s almost impossible for you to tell the difference between a letter from the DWP or your doctor and, say, a piece of spam mail or worse, a scam.

Your adult children sometimes help but they can’t come over every day. You need someone unbiased and trustworthy to sort the important mail from the rest. Where do you go?

The answer, to all of these, is the local library. I know this because these are real examples of people who regularly visit the library where I work. To them and to countless others, a public library is the one place on the high street where they can come and spend a little bit of time without having to spend money and get a bit of judgement-free help.

“Almost 800 local libraries have been closed for good in the UK.”

I am a library worker. I am the friendliest, most accessible face of the local authority services. I’m a safe ear to listen, advise and, wherever I can, provide information on just about any subject you can imagine.

You don’t need a good imagination to imagine a high street or town centre without a library because since austerity was implemented in 2010, almost 800 local libraries have been closed for good in the UK. With Covid and lockdown-related costs eating into already thinly-stretched council budgets, hundreds more libraries are set to be axed.

Libraries are often referred to as “the last safety net”. When someone slips through the cracks of social care, they come to us. What happens when that “last safety net” is pulled away?

Covid doesn’t just claim lives. It claims livelihoods. It has devastated communities and widened the gap between the rich and poor. With the Government and local authorities stretched beyond breaking point, more people than ever will need the services of their local library.

We must preserve and support this unique institution. We must fight to keep our libraries open, alive and thriving because where the library thrives, the entire community benefits.

When you can, please visit your local library. Visitor numbers are used to allocate our funding and higher numbers help keep us open. Pop in for a book, to use a computer or to just have a chat with us. After all, as this pandemic has taught us, you never know when you might need that safety net.

Allie Morgan is a writer and library worker. Her book The Librarian: A Memoir is out now.