I wrote about my horror at Newcastle’s plans to make drastic cuts to its library and arts funding in a previous post and I’ve been meaning to do something about it ever since. I’m a supporter too of Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, which is based in Newcastle and will lose something like 13% of its total funding if the council carries out its proposal to withdraw its entire grant.
Seven Stories has information about the cuts on its site and you can find out more about the libraries campaign from Save Newcastle Libraries. I also like the Let’s talk Libraries page where local authors go out into branches, including Fenham which I used as a child, and talk to the people using them about the difference libraries make to their lives and what they would miss if they closed. There’s a consultation going on until 1st February, email firstname.lastname@example.org to take part, and today I’ve submitted the following letter.
Dear Newcastle City Council,
I am writing in response to your budget consultation proposal to cut 100% of your funding to the independent cultural organisations in Newcastle, including Seven Stories, and to close 10 libraries. Although I no longer live in Newcastle, I grew up there and regularly used Fenham Library, one of those ear-marked for closure. I have also followed the progress of Seven Stories since the very inception of the idea, have visited and am a regular donor. I believe the cuts in both areas to be disproportionate.
Libraries – I credit Fenham Library with a large part in shaping my life. The staff and stock helped kindle my interest in history (which I later studied at University) and in the processes involved in managing a library (my future career). That was four decades ago, but I am interested to read the personal stories at www.letstalklibraries.com which show that Fenham and other Newcastle libraries are still changing people’s lives in similar ways. A healthy network of libraries is necessary to an educated and informed population because:
- Not everything is online
- Not everyone can afford to be online or to buy their own books
- Not every child is lucky enough to come from a home where books and education are important. Many research studies have shown that children who enjoy reading are better equipped to realise their learning and creative potential
- Not everyone is fit enough to travel longer distances to libraries, or can afford the transport costs to do so
Seven Stories – The cultural life of Newcastle is the envy of much of the UK and creates jobs and investment by encouraging tourists to visit and businesses to set up in the city. I have read that £1 invested in culture can generate £4 for the local economy, and Seven Stories is a very good example of this. I no longer have family or friends in Newcastle and had not visited for almost two decades, but have been back twice in recent years. Even though I knew the city had changed, I was amazed at the scale of the improvements and would be sad to see this lost. I would definitely come back and have recommended it to other people as a destination with Seven Stories as a must-see for anyone with children and / or interested in children’s books. As well as being a tourist attraction, it:
- Brings prestige to Newcastle by recently being named the National Centre for Children’s Books
- Holds unique collections and protects our literary heritage for children
- Does valuable outreach with local children, working with 85% of Newcastle’s schools. This ties in with my remarks about libraries above
I know the City Council must make cuts because of UK government policy, and I don’t expect the Council’s funding of culture and libraries to be an exception, but the proposals are too much. 100% of a very small portion of your overall budget will save very little anyway, but if you lose these places you will never get them back and Newcastle will cease to be the vibrant, dynamic city it has developed into. I beg you to reconsider.
I was saddened at the weekend when I was alerted via Twitter that most of Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s libraries were under threat. On 10th November, both local papers, the Journal and the Evening Chronicle, carried detailed articles by Adrian Pearson in which we were told that”The vast majority of Newcastle’s 18 libraries will either be closed down or handed over to community groups as city chiefs set out £90m of cuts over the next three years. Only the newly-rebuilt city centre library is said to be safe from the axe.” One of the comments led me to a transcript of a Radio Four Today Programme interview from earlier in the year with Tony Durcan, head of Newcastle’s libraries, in which he “gave, at best, lukewarm support for the universal need for paid and qualified library staff”, offering the opinion that library work was “not brain surgery”. Well, other than brain surgery, nothing is, and it doesn’t hold out much hope for the libraries if this is the attitude of the boss. More hopeful is a pre-emptive campaign against the move by authors such as Alan Gibbons, Philip Pullman and Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson which has been covered in the Bookseller, BBC News, and the Guardian. Local anti-cuts campaign Coalition of Resistance is also taking up the fight.
So how does this relate to Things 20 and 22? Well, Thing 22 was about volunteering in which I stated my opposition to job substitution and handing libraries over to community groups in this way. Thing 20 was about Library Routes, and part of the post I wrote in 2010 for that project said of a library I visited as a child “I was intrigued by all the Browne tickets and wondered how on earth they ever found mine (especially as they seemed to be in a different place each time). The only time I remember asking for help was when we had a kitchen planning project for Cookery and the person I asked took me straight to the right shelf which I thought was very clever.” You’ve guessed, that is one of the libraries on Newcastle’s little list. My family lived in Fenham between 1968, when I was 11, and 1973. To go back to the Evening Chronicle article, I read that “Fenham’s library is one of those with an uncertain future. Mark Johnson, 85, a retired police officer, said he goes to the library three or four times a week to read the newspapers. He has been using the service for 40 years. “I’m very disappointed. They got rid of the pool too. I think it would have a very big impact on people around here.”” I must have overlapped with Mr Johnson, perhaps we queued up at the counter together and marvelled at the way the library staff could always find our tickets?
So this was the branch that first got me thinking about the methods of actually managing a library, starting me on the career path I later took. It also influenced my choice of degree subject – staff at Fenham never seemed to mind me using children’s tickets to take books out of the adult library. In those days, there wasn’t the fantastic choice of teenage literature that there is now, so I went through all the Agatha Christies that they had, then moved on to historical fiction. After that, I started taking out historical non-fiction and biographies which, coupled with a charismatic teacher, inspired me to study history at university. I can fairly say that Fenham Library shaped my life. Where are today’s young Geordies going to get that sort of experience if you close all the libraries now, Newcastle?