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Save our Libraries, Save Ourselves

By Marcus Belben of People's Heritage Co-operative

On 11th May we walked with Birmingham Loves Libraries and local library lovers a distance of over 5 miles between Druids Heath and Selly Oak Libraries and talked to people about why libraries were important to them. The walk brought home to all of us how any loss will leave gaps across Birmingham, areas where people literally cannot walk to a library.

Many of Birmingham’s Public Libraries were built as part of a campaign to provide public libraries within walking distance of every local resident, in recognition of the value of libraries over one hundred years ago. Public libraries have proved essential for bringing local communities together, sharing information and more widely for our economy, so how is it that, 150 years on from when the ‘Public Library Movement’ began in the UK, 800 libraries have closed in the UK since 2010?

The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 created a statutory duty for local authorities ‘to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof.’ The act says library services must:

  1. Have regard to the desirability of encouraging both adults and children to make full use of the library service (section 7(2)(b)); and

  2. lend books and other printed material free of charge for those who live, work or study in the area (section 8(3)(b)).

The Government’s own ‘Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016 to 2021’ paper (updated 2018) identifies that:

Libraries change lives for the better. They not only provide access to books and other literature but also help people to help themselves and improve their opportunities, bring people together, and provide practical support and guidance. As a locally accountable service, they are well-placed to respond to local needs and issues.  ‘Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016 to 2021’

Our government is aiming to ‘refresh’ public libraries, while at the same time force through swinging cuts which are closing them.

Birmingham’s libraries are as unique as the areas they represent, providing quality services to meet the needs of their local residents and reflecting local culture on their shelves and in their activities. Birmingham loves its libraries and needs to keep all of them.

This post was originally shared here. Thanks to Marcus and the People's Heritage Co-operative team for capturing the walks so beautifully!

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