Relief that there were no major screw-ups… or punch-ups. And frustration that of course we have not got nearly far enough in sorting out the accelerating disaster that is happening to public libraries today. Well, I said that this conference is just the beginning. And I meant it. The Library Campaign is committed to taking this forward.

Most lasting impression no 1: first speaker Steve Davies of Cardiff University highlighted David Cameron’s now-infamous recent speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in London. In it he reversed all previous promises and made it clear that he is determined to reduce public services permanently – no matter how much money the country might acquire. A smaller ‘more efficient’ state is the goal – no matter what. Cameron was pictured saying this in full evening rig, surrounded by bottles of fine wine, gold table accessories, gold chains, golden chairs, etc etc. Either his spin doctors have finally lost their minds – or they really don’t give a toss any more and are going for a full-strength ‘party of the rich and selfish’ strategy.

We are already officially the 6th richest country in the world, Steve pointed out. When you are this rich, choices on spending are not economical. They are political. Steve also pointed out that the Tory party has cleared all its pre-election material from its own website – and the internet. So – no way to pin down this change, or the many other blatantly broken promises. However – ahem – the British Library still has the whole lot. And anyone can get hold of it. Because the BL is a library…

Most lasting impression no 2: real and widespread anger at local councils ‘consultation’ methods. From all round the country there were stories of rigged questions, making questionnaires inaccessible – or quite simply ignoring the results. There is, it emerged, no legal way to oblige councils to consult honestly or honour their results. As government has dumped all responsibility for the problems of libraries – saying it is purely a matter for local authorities – that’s ironic, to say the least. But, given Cameron’s gold-spattered speech, it’s clear this government has lost all sense of irony.

Laura Swaffield
Chair, The Library Campaign

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Libraries News Round-up: 5th March 2014

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