Waltham Forest protest against library closures in 2008, photo Bob Severn

Waltham Forest protest against library closures in 2008, photo Bob Severn   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

OVER 80 protests took place around the country as part of a national day of action to defend the 450 libraries earmarked for closure.

Nancy Taaffe, Library trade union convenor, Waltham Forest, north east London

The action varied from genteel affairs like public readings to mass ‘shh-ins’ where protesters joined in a chorus of “shh” on the stroke of 11am. Around the country library shelves were emptied of books as mass borrowing was encouraged to drive home the message of just how popular our libraries are.

The libraries day of action attracted national press coverage and many well-known personalities signed up to support it. Celebrities such as Kirsty Young, Billy Bragg, and Anna Ford, along with well-known authors such as Philip Pullman, Julia Donaldson and Alan Gibbons gave public readings and held meetings to protest at planned closures.

However, apart from the glitz and glamour that is associated with these protests, there is widespread support amongst workers for libraries. There are more public libraries in working-class communities than there are branches of McDonald’s and on any Saturday more people will visit a public library than go to a football match.

Even if people don’t use them much, they expect them to be there. Libraries, despite their shabbiness or inadequacies, represent possibilities to learn and for intellectual advancement for people who can’t afford books.

When I asked my local councillor whether the library I work in was earmarked for closure he replied: “I’ll die in a ditch before they close this place, there’s nothing that fills my surgery up with angry people more than a library closure.”

In the emerging anti-cuts movements it is often the library campaigns that are the more vocal and active, acting as a catalyst to other campaigns.

We must support all of these national coordinated events which attract big names and tonnes of publicity but we must also raise the necessity of library workers taking industrial action to beat off library closures and communities occupying sites and buildings that the council tries to sell off to property developers.

As I said to my local councillor: “You don’t have to die in a ditch, you just have to vote against the cuts”!