SLAM campaigners attended a rally and lobby of Parliament yesterday, organised by the national campaigning group, Speak Up For Libraries – a group set up by library campaigners, Elizabeth Ash of Croydon and Mar Dixon from Shropshire (www.speakupforlibraries.org).
SLAM joined other campaigners from across the country in highlighting the withering away of the nation’s library service while the Minister for Culture (including libraries), Ed Vaizey, stands idly by. (SLAM has previously written to the Minister for Culture asking him to intervene over Surrey County Council’s library plans – see prior blog).
High-profile authors and campaigners spoke to the rally, including Elizabeth Ash, Mar Dixon, Kate Mosse, Alan Gibbons, Phillip Ardagh, Dave Prentis (Gen Sec – Unison) and Dan Jarvis MP.
SLAM caught up with shadow culture minster, Dan Jarvis MP, after the rally to inform him of the situation in Surrey and the upcoming Judicial Review. Labour MP Dan Jarvis was critical of Ed Vaizey, saying:
He has left it to campaigners to do his job, by taking library authorities to court at great expense and effort.
How can it be credible that an authority can break the law [referring to another library legal challenge – Ed] without in his view triggering his legal duty to oversee and promote the library service?
And if a local authority can be in breach of equalities legislation without him thinking it fit to act, just what WOULD it take?
SLAM also contributed to a lobby, organised by Elizabeth and Mar, with Conservative MP, Justin Tomlinson (Chairman of the parliamentary all-party libraries group). This was an extensive meeting which was both useful and constructive, during which many ideas for the future of the library service were shared. The lobbying group and Justin Tomlinson found common ground on a number of different library issues, including on the use of volunteers. Justin Tomlinson has since posted this interesting and thoughtful piece on the future of the library service which is well worth a read (http://www.justintomlinson.com/news/379/).
SLAM then tried to lobby Surrey MP and Defence Secretary, Phillip Hammond, but he was giving a statement to the House on the Nigerian hostage situation so was unavailable.
We think the rally and lobby were well timed – given the current economic climate, and the recent report issued by OFSTED detailing declining reading and literacy levels in British children, the need for a well resourced and well staffed library service is more pertinent than ever. Local administrations should be investing in libraries, not closing them or getting rid of library staff, and the Minister for Culture must become the “champion” of the service he claims to be – now is the time for him to be acting, not sitting on the sidelines!
We are indebted to Elizabeth Ash and Mar Dixon for forming Speak Up For Libraries and organising the event, providing a national focus for the crisis currently affecting the library service. We hope they have provided a platform upon which a vision for the future of the library service can be formulated. We call on the Minister for Culture to consult with library users, campaigners and local authorities to begin putting such a vision together. Come on Ed Vaizey – Speak up for Libraries!
The Judicial Review is just a few days away now and we still need your help in reaching our Community Contribution target to enable the Review to go ahead.
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