When a plan for mass closures shocked the whole county in 2019, people quickly came together to fight it.
Within days SOLE – Save Our Libraries Essex – was formed. A major point was that ALL Essex libraries must be saved. There was to be no playing one library against another.
SOLE has run a fantastic campaign, with celebrity endorsements, social media, demonstrations and marches (including one marathon relay visiting all 74 libraries!). Lockdown didn’t stop them.
Taken aback, the council changed tack and promised to keep all libraries open for at least five years… but wanted as many communities as possible to take over running them.
Some campaigns give in at this stage from sheer exhaustion. Not SOLE! So-called “community libraries” are no alternative to the real thing. So SOLE has carried right on.
The council has declined to meet SOLE in a proper public meeting. Now it is mulling a new “strategy”- details unknown. But it starts with two online consultation sessions – no use to the many who are not online, and at times when most online users will be at work or school! So SOLE has got in first, collecting views outside Loughton library and writing its own 10-point plan for libraries. One that makes sense…
SOLE’s 10 points are:-
1. A long term commitment to keep all existing branch libraries open.
2. Commit to every library staying staffed and being maintained directly by Essex County Council.
3. Increase our paid, trained, library staff – libraries must not depend on volunteers.
4. Listen to library users – let’s see real, open consultation on a library strategy.
5. Improve the stock in every local library – let’s reverse the loss of 500,000 books.
6. Restore and extend opening hours including Sunday opening where there is proven demand.
7. Introduce a fines amnesty to build library use back.
8. Protect our existing public library space – don’t sacrifice it to other users and profit.
9. Develop, extend, and promote appropriate activities and services supporting education and culture for all, in our libraries.
10. Publish a local development plan for every library and invest in our library buildings and infrastructure – it’s our future.
To read the full story of SOLE (so far!) in TLC’s magazine no 97 pp
9-10 and no 98 pp 8-12.