Barely a fortnight after Liverpool’s tenure as Capital of Culture came to an end, a council in Merseyside has announced the closure of ten of Wirral’s twenty four libraries along with a number of leisure centres. The plan had initially been to close thirteen, but after a surge of public protest that saw nearly 400 people attend the strategic asset review hearing in Wallasey Town Hall, Upton, Pensby and Birkenhead Central Libraries have been saved. I grew up there, and although my local library wasn’t one of the many affected, this is a hugely personal issue for me. I spent the best part of a day last week contacting everyone I know who still lives there, trying to convince them to go on one of the many protests that took place. Sadly, they made little difference.
The Wirral is seen as being predominantly middle-class, and whilst this is true of many parts of the peninsula, it isn’t true of all of them. One woman told a BBC reporter, “We’re in a poor area. We’ve only got two things. One is the baths and one is the library and both of them are being taken away. I don’t think that’s fair.”
In a recession, we need more libraries not fewer. Not all schools possess well-stocked libraries, although they should. Not every child and adult has access to the wealth of information stored on the internet, although they should. For many, community libraries are the only places people can go, not just for books but to use the internet, look for jobs and get information about local groups and facilities, they posses photocopying and fax facilities. They offer services for the visually impaired and they loan out DVDs and CDs for a fraction of the price of your average Blockbuster. In this economic climate, why are councils reducing the facilities for affordable entertainment?
To say that they should be closed is tantamount to saying that it doesn’t matter that there are people who can’t afford to purchase books from Waterstones or Amazon, it doesn’t matter that a community has no free access to newspapers or reference books or the internet. But it does matter. Free access to books, no matter what your age or background, is one of the fundamental principles of a civilised, educated society,
Libraries shouldn’t be one of our most neglected resources, they should be among our most cherished.