I love libraries. I think it’s probably a by-product of my love of books. The primary school I went to was next door to the village library, and as soon as I could read, I used to love going in after school and picking out a book to read. There’s something beautiful about the concept; enough books to keep you fascinated and entertained forever. Books on all manner of subjects, you can literally learn anything you like in a library.
So it should be no surprise that, having gotten back to Wargrave yesterday afternoon, one of the first things I did today was get myself down to Wargrave Library. I joined a few years ago, when I moved to the area, but being at university for the past three years, I hadn’t used it in a while, and couldn’t for the life of me find my library card. Fortunately, the lovely staff helped me out by providing me with a replacement, and I’m now sat reading a lovely copy of “The Drowned World” by J.G. Ballard.
The reason that I bring this up, is because library services are currently under threat. With central government piling cuts onto its local counterpart, library services are at risk the country over. In many places libraries are facing closure, in an effort (hugely misguided, in my opinion) to save money. That is not happening in Wokingham Borough. Instead, they are resorting to traditional Tory fare, and handing the whole lot over to the private sector.
The party line is that this will save jobs and services, preventing the council from having to resort to harmful closures. Except, I’m not so sure. Granted, I’m an ardent critic of the Tories, but I think there are some distinct flaws with this idea.
Firstly, and most obviously, privatisation means that profit will automatically take precedence over any concept of duty or public service. In a small village like Wargrave, the local library provides a central focal point for the community. As I learnt last night, at a fantastic Wargrave Words event for Wargrave festival (featuring fascinating talks from crime authors Sophie Hannah and Simon Brett), there are ten book clubs in the village. Ten. In a village of roughly 4,000.
If a private company takes over this service, they will want to make a profit. I struggle to see where this will come in (maybe someone can enlighten me?) save for cutting back on the quality and breadth of services provided. And if there isn’t a profit margin, then the company will be forced to shut down the library. Hence there’s even less protection against the risk of closure than if it was still council controlled. Local residents can at least exercise a level of control over the council, after all.
So here it is. The library provides a key community service. A place where learning and entertainment can be attained without charge. A place where residents can socialise and form community bonds. A cornerstone of the kind of involved society which the government claims to want to promote. Any threat to the library, therefore, is a direct threat to the community.
There is an online petition, and a fledgeling campaign, already set up to lobby against this decision. I strongly urge you, if the library matters to you, to speak up and sign it. Petitions can make a difference, and the will of the people is a tremendous force in a democracy. And beyond the petition, there will in the near future be a by-election in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe ward (the precise details of I will certainly be blogging about at a later date). This will give Wargrave residents an opportunity to protest against this Conservative disregard for their library. And I can promise you now, the local Labour Party will always be a strong and vocal advocate for the importance of local library services.