Time to end the run-down of the library service

Martin Sullivan from the Friends of the Library of Birmingham, comments on recently-announced funding cuts.

“We have done the best we can to protect the city library service; the cuts could have been worse”, is the view of the council leadership, and “the problem is caused by the huge cuts to the Birmingham rate support grant from central government, causing acute financial difficulties for the council”.

The Friends of the Libraries of Birmingham are well aware of the year-on-year assault on Birmingham’s local government finance. However, we cannot accept that this new cut of £1.923 million to the city community libraries is justified and we are calling for it to be rejected. After all, this is a relatively small amount compared to the size of the council budget.

Alongside the big cuts to the new Library of Birmingham, which has seen a hundred of its staff being sacked and the loss of a whole floor, another important aspect of the cultural life of the city is being wound down with these new attacks on the community libraries.

Twenty four full-time-equivalent library staff posts are projected to be lost, two libraries are set for closure and the opening hours of many others are set to be restricted, with reduced staffing, often in smaller and shared accommodation. A vital public space for literature, learning and study is to be further restricted.

This is unacceptable and has to be resisted. The Friends of the Libraries of Birmingham will support library users, staff and trade unionists who wish to oppose this new onslaught.

We have campaigned tirelessly against the attacks on the city library service for several years now, organising public meetings, outdoor rallies, demonstrations, street stalls, petitions, responses to consultation (only to be ignored), press appearances, questions to Council meetings, letters and lobbying. It cannot be right that at every turn, people who voluntarily give up so much of their free time and energy are met with rejection.

We also note that Labour councillors have been absent from virtually all of our well-publicised events over the years, and have consistently voted through cuts packages in the council chamber without opposition. We say that this has to change. With a new anti-austerity leadership in the Labour Party, we expect better from the Labour-dominated city council.

We aim to see library buildings re-furbished, new books being bought and a modern flourishing library service be developed, complemented by an appropriate number of specialist librarians. This will not happen without serious campaigning and resistance. We have provided an example of what can be done and we now call on the city council to adopt a similar spirit. A good start could be made by them saying that the forthcoming consultation over the future of the city library service will proceed without the new cut of £1.923 million hanging over its head.

Friends of the Library will be campaigning with UNISON in leafleting and petitioning outside Sutton Coldfield library, from 12-2pm on Wednesday 19th October, to oppose its closure.

Aston Voice Residents Association will be opposing the closure of Aston Library. And the AVRA will be supporting the Friends of the Library campaign.