Today Lord John Bird and his fellow campaigners made headway in the fight to save Britain’s libraries by meeting with Westminster officials in a hard-won roundtable meeting.
In July the group, headed by Lord Bird and made up of prominent figures in the libraries community, was tasked with presenting solid, quantifiable evidence to politicians of the real-world impact libraries have on society if their quest for sustainable funding was to go any further.
And today they delivered: Libraries Minister Michael Ellis MP and Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak MP heard the testimonies of library users who agree that libraries are a vital public lifeline.
The meeting was hugely successful, with the evidence presented being extremely well-received by both the ministers and the other members of the libraries community. The politicians ultimately agreed to use their platform to take the cause forward.
Michael Ellis said: “They are the lifeblood of communities, and nothing is used by more people, from more diverse backgrounds, than our public libraries. We now need to convince other departments of the contribution that libraries can make to cross-government strategies – digital, internet security, civil society, integrated communities.
“It’s really important to continue to develop the most robust evidence base as possible on library impact, which will support the case Rishi and I are making to decision-makers in HM Treasury and elsewhere.”
The politicians also advocated for libraries to play a part in delivering other government strategies and develop a relationship with governmental departments.
Those experiences and anecdotes, many of which were contributed by Big Issue readers after we put a call out, explained the indispensable role libraries play in literacy, digital skills, community building and giving a hand-up to those in poverty.
Rishi Sunak added that the politicians will make the case for libraries in the approach of annual spending reviews in 2019. “Grew up loving them, and still love them, and I know from experience that libraries touch on so many areas of people’s lives. Building strong communities is crucial and libraries are an essential part of why we’re each proud to call a community our home.”
More than 800 have closed since 2010 with that number likely only to increase as councils struggle for funding and cut costs. But as we face a loneliness crisis and social mobility remains far out of reach for so many, we cannot afford to lose these invaluable resources nestled right at the heart of communities across the country.
Lord Bird said after the meeting: “With the support of Big Issue readers and CILIP, we’ve made an extremely strong case for a sustainable and properly-funded library service. In his Budget, the Chancellor called on Britain’s high streets to adapt, in order to remain at the centre of our communities. As our report shows, libraries have been doing this in spades.
“What they urgently need is sustainable, long-term funding to ensure they can keep on preventing poverty and battling ignorance for generations to come.”
The next step for the campaign will be to maintain momentum and ensure we hold those ministers accountable for the action they have pledged – for our libraries, our communities, and that far-reaching social echo.