The Library Campaign is urging local councils to set their budgets – without sabotaging their best post-pandemic asset. Despite dire financial problems, there is one cut no council should make… a cut to its library service.
“As lockdown slowly eases, it is obvious that massive unmet needs will be revealed – some urgent, some complex. Help must be accessible, at local level. And it must be expert help, by experienced staff,” says TLC chair Laura Swaffield. “Public libraries, in effect, provide a chain of local, trusted, multi-function drop-in centres. “Their cost is a tiny fraction of any council’s budget – less than 1%.”
The damage from cutting libraries would cost far more than any savings made. This cost would fall on other council departments, including education, public health, youth services and social services.
▪ Libraries are uniquely trusted as a source of information. This trust has been built up over decades. Misinformation has flourished during lockdown. Some – such as anti-vaccination – has cost lives and still does. So there will clearly be a need for trusted information on essential issues such as Covid-19, health (including mental health), domestic violence, council services and benefits.
▪ Equally important for many will be IT access – with support needed from expert staff. Benefits claims and job searches/applications will be key.
▪ Also crucial will be support for children, from the very young (and their parents/carers) to schoolchildren trying to “catch up”. Books are a uniquely cheap source of escapism and entertainment. Reading for pleasure has been proved time and again to be the main predictor of progress in education – in all subjects, including maths. Libraries even have a special programme called the Summer Reading Challenge, which uses child-friendly gimmicks to get children reading.
▪ For adults, libraries supply a large range of reference material – in particular, business support that is beyond the budget of any start-up or SME. They are also a core point of access to skills training of all kinds. At a time of mass upheavals in the jobs landscape, these will be much needed. ▪ Many aspects of daily life will be more devolved to local level. Those working from home will need local resources, and often local desk space. Library services have already seen increased use of local branches. This is not the time to sabotage them.
▪ Finally, local libraries will be vital in restoring the mental health of adults. Books, and the many other leisure resources such as DVDs, newspapers and magazines, must be freely available – especially to those who have suffered financially during lock-down and will continue to do so.
▪ Group activities, which must be run by skilled practitioners, will be of more value than they have ever been. Isolation and loneliness, depression and anxiety, are not problems that will disappear spontaneously. Library-run groups cater for every age group, from young families to the elderly, teens and students to minority ethnic groups.
Local libraries offer a lot, at a very small price. They are a bargain for any council.
Councils simply cannot afford to lose them.