Libraries are our cultural soul, now who will save them?

When David Cameron didn’t quite win the last General Election he distanced himself from one of Margaret Thatcher’s famous lines: “There is no such thing (as society).”

Hednesford Library could be run by the community
Hednesford Library could be run by the community

He concluded there was such a thing, but that it wasn’t the same as the state. What he set out to create with his ‘big society’ project was a way of encouraging people to play an active part in the community and make it easier to run a charity or voluntary organisation.

Four years on and it’s not a buzz phrase you hear a fat lot – not, at least, as often as you hear ‘bedroom tax’ or ‘help to buy’ or even ‘regional growth fund’.

Daniel Wainwright

But it’s still there in the background. It didn’t come into play when Tory councillors in Staffordshire started discussing the sacred cows that are libraries, even though it fits their proposals to use volunteers.

In Wolverhampton, a Labour plan to scale back opening hours and recruit an army of volunteers was met with a wave of petitions and protests and the idea of creating ‘community hubs’ where libraries would share space with something else was made to feel about as welcome as a dog at a game of skittles.

Half the battle, I always thought, was in a name. Everyone knows what a library is. It’s a place with lots of books where pre-schoolers can go and have story time and sing The Wheels On The Bus and where grown-ups can get on the internet. A community hub was something else no-one had ever heard of, even if it was still going to do all those things.

So Staffordshire has at least been savvy enough to use the word ‘library’ in the plan its councillors haven’t quite yet unveiled. They’re going to be known as ‘library core’, ‘library local’ and ‘library extra’, the latter two sounding suspiciously like branches of Tesco.

Key to making sure libraries are open will be moving away from the ‘one size fits all approach’. And that means the public will have to step in and volunteer.

In a climate of squeezed public spending, coupled with increased demand for services from an ageing population and looked after children, it’s no longer enough to just say ‘use it or lose it’.

Now, if you want to keep something going you have to offer to run it as well.

The big society is based on the idea of people wanting to volunteer their time to help out.

But at the same time, if the government’s figures are to be believed, there are millions more people in private sector employment than when the Coalition came to office. I barely have the time to read novels as it is, let alone run a library.

I’d love to believe there are so many people out there that have the time and the inclination to save their libraries from dwindling stocks of books and shorter opening hours.

I certainly don’t criticise the county council for asking if there’s anyone out there prepared to do it. I’m just a little worried what might happen if the answer is no.

The children’s author Toby Forward (he wrote Dragonborn, it’s in the library), said: “Civilised nations build libraries; lands that have lost their soul close them down.”

Bailey's on the Christmas countdown

The mercury has climbed into the low 20s in recent days but Adrian Bailey is clearly an MP who believes in planning ahead.

While most of us were planning barbecues and then scrapping them due to the torrential downpours, the member for West Bromwich West was organising a competition for schools.

A Christmas card competition, that is.

It might seem a little premature. But there are only 193 shopping days left.

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Comments for: "Libraries are our cultural soul, now who will save them?"

do lallytap

Library ???

I went into the West Brom one about a month ago, first time in the best part of 25 years and even though it is a fantastic historical building all the people were using it for were to read the newspapers or go on the computers.

OK you got the occasional person coming in to bring back their books but it really had the feel of people....I know this will upset a few...people dossing about.

A building like that could be a community hub, how about a decent cafe within it or a decent historical part showing our local history of the area....I know they have the reference bit but they could really improve it in bundles by adding decent historical displays and photos showing how the area had changed


The "line" may be famous, due to inadequate journalism on display here, which fails to establish the relevant context.

For the benefit of the ignorant:

I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand, "I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!" or "I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!", "I am homeless, the Government must house me!" and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation and it is, I think, one of the tragedies in which many of the benefits we give, which were meant to reassure people that if they were sick or ill there was a safety net and there was help, that many of the benefits which were meant to help people who were unfortunate—" It is all right. We joined together and we have these insurance schemes to look after it" . That was the objective, but somehow there are some people who have been manipulating the system and so some of those help and benefits that were meant to say to people:"All right, if you cannot get a job, you shall have a basic standard of living!" but when people come and say:"But what is the point of working? I can get as much on the dole!" You say:"Look" It is not from the dole. It is your neighbour who is supplying it and if you can earn your own living then really you have a duty to do it and you will feel very much better!"

Just as true now as it was then.