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Fight, Save & Keep – Campaigning for Libraries by Leon Bolton

Category: Blog, Campaigning for Libraries

The following blog post was written for our Campaigning for Libraries blog that we ran as part of Libraries Week 2019. The blog features writing from various people who have been involved in library campaigns over the past few years. We hope the advice provided might help others who want to campaign for libraries.

Leon Bolton is a qualified and chartered librarian with 26 years’ experience of the library sector. He comments on and advocates for libraries at Leon’s Library Blog (https://leonslibraryblog.com/) and via Twitter @librareon

Like many public services, libraries have undergone significant changes during the last decade. Some changes have undoubtedly been due to technological and social adjustments but libraries have shown a remarkable resilience and creativity in evolving new and innovative services in response.

However, the most fundamental change has been cuts in local authority funding leading to substantial reductions in library budgets. In many areas this has resulted in ‘hollowing-out’, closures, or libraries handed over to alternative providers.

The first most people hear of such proposals is when the local council goes out to consultation on a new library strategy. Sadly, it’s almost a given that the introduction of a new strategy inevitability means service cuts.

The first reaction is one of shock and disappointment but to begin with it’s difficult to know how to respond to such proposals in order to protect a much loved and cherished service.

Below are some simple suggestions to help get a campaign started:

Getting started

  • Changes: to library services are initially announced via the council website but most residents find out through local newspapers, radio or notices in their local library
  • Social media: You won’t be the only one to disagree with the proposals. Use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to make contact with like-minded individuals to discuss possible action
  • Meetings: good old-fashioned face-to-face meetings are the best way to get organised. Arrange one in your area
  • Media: Build good relations with the local press and keep them informed of your actions and activities such as demonstrations. Get used to preparing press releases
  • Publicity: Communication & publicity are essential to a good campaign. Tactics such as petitions, open letters, and leaflets help raise the profile of the campaign, inform the wider public, and gather support
  • Other campaigns: There are many library campaigns throughout the UK so reach out and learn from others. Equally, there are some very experienced national campaigners on social media who can be contacted for advice and help
  • Resources: Check resources such as Public Library News, which publishes updates about libraries nationally. Cilip Scotland and the Scottish Library & Information Council websites also have relevant information that can be used

Dealing with Councils

  • Council contacts: Ensure you know who the leader of the council and the lead member for libraries are and their contact details
  • Correspondence: Keep all correspondence including social media contact courteous. No one reacts well to abuse and it is counter-productive to your campaign
  • Council meetings: the business of the council is conducted through a variety of meetings. Make sure you understand how the process works and who to contact. Council websites should have a list of when committees meet with agendas and minutes available.
  • Councillors: seek to build a broad coalition of support. Nothing undermines a campaign more than it being seen as partisan so ensure the campaign maintains independence of any one political party. Sympathetic councillors can also guide you through the intricacies and bureaucracy of council meetings
  • MSP: Write to your MSP or go to their surgery to discuss the campaign. MSPs usually have good relations or at least understanding of the local council and might be willing to make representation on your behalf. Also consider contacting the Scottish Culture Secretary
  • Public Consultations: ensure that you attend any public consultations that are organised by the council to ask questions and obtain further information

Remember: Don’t take at face-value statistics released as part of the consultation. It’s in the council’s interest to be selective with data to prove their point. For instance, borrowing figures might be down but visitor numbers up due to other activities taking place in the library. Adult borrowing might be down but children’s borrowing up. IT provision is another important aspect of what libraries do so make sure you fully understand what the library is used for and how it is measured.

Libraries are an important part of the fabric of the local community and carry out essential work around literacy, education, information access, and enabling social cohesion. They do this quietly, efficiently and without fuss.  But sadly, when under threat, staff can rarely speak up for themselves, which is why they need local residents and the community to speak out on their behalf.

So, fight for libraries, save libraries, and keep libraries for future generations.