Friday, April 22, 2011
Libraries around the world, but especially in the UK and the US, are facing closure due local and national government budget cuts blamed on poor economies. In a bitter twist of fate, these closures and threats of closures are coming at a time when public library use is increasing. Just when people most need their public library for learning, job seeking, entertainment and social activities, they are being taken away from those most in need.
Because of these threats several movements to save libraries have been started.
An American campaign describes their cause as:
"Save Libraries is a grassroots effort to compile information and advocacy resources for libraries that are facing devastating budget cuts. We are in the midst of what American Library Association and the Center for Library and Information Innovation at the University of Maryland call a “perfect storm” of growing community demand for library services and shrinking resources to meet that demand.
In a time when people and communities need libraries the most, libraries are reducing their hours or worse closing their doors."
There have been some stories out of the UK, from both the Guardian and the Independent, both acknowledging cost cutting is required, but not wholesale, and not at the destruction of library services.
Politics do get involved in this debate as it seems these cuts in funding are being driven by governments on the right side of the political spectrum, at least in the UK. From my reading, the US libraries facing cuts are facing pressure to cost cut and stop taxes rising.
I probably swing more to social liberalism then classical liberalism, but I do believe in the free market. I hate wastage of any type, but especially government run services.
If libraries do one thing well, besides free education for all, no matter race, religion or creed, libraries save money. Not only saving their customers the need to buy all the books a library can provide, but they have the economies of scale to subscribe to electronic journal databases, or print subscriptions, that individuals couldn't afford to.
If there are gains through amalgamation of library related services, especially in their governance and administration, but we need well stocked and well staffed libraries to remain intact. Of course collections are going to change, as I've blogged about previously, but for now we need physical books, and we need libraries to store them and provide access, and we need knowledgeable and trained librarians to staff them, and to get them we need to pay for them.
Here's a map showing UK libraries closed or threatened with closure.
Voices for the library