The Women’s Institute joins the fight!

9 Jun

You may have heard yesterday, that an astonishing 98% of The Women’s Institute AGM attendees voted in favour of the resolution ‘this meeting urges Her Majesty’s government to maintain support for local libraries, as an essential education and information resource’. Earlier this year I spoke to the Suffolk West Federation of Women’s Institue members to show them why they should ‘vote library’. This is what I said…

Good evening, my name is Abby Barker and I’m a member of Rosehill Readers, a campaign group set up in January this year to campaign to save our local public library in Ipswich.

I was invited to talk about our campaign and in favour of the motion ‘this meeting urges Her Majesty’s government to maintain support for local libraries, as an essential education and information resource’.

The Save Rosehill campaign started when I read the library consultation paper produced by Suffolk County Council in January, which announced the potential closure of 29 ofSuffolk’s libraries. I was so outraged that something like this could happen to our library service that I felt I could not sit back and do nothing.

I decided that on February 5th, a day designated as National Save Libraries Day, that I would protest outside Rosehill, my local library, and one of the 29 threatened with closure. Having no idea where to start, or even if anyone would turn up I decided to start a Twitter account ‘ Save Rosehill’, a blog ‘Rosehill Readers’ and using the advice of the Voices for the Library campaign contacted the local press.

Over 100 people turned up on February 5th, some came to borrow as many books as they could, some came to sign the ‘Save Rosehill’ petition, children turned up with ‘hands off our library’ homemade placards, and a family brought their latest addition, a 4 week old, to get her first library card.

Over the course of the day I met other people who shared my concerns, and we formed Rosehill Readers. A month later we held our second protest outside Rosehill to coincide with the protest march in Leiston, and at this protest, someone suggested that we should hold a march through Ipswich, for all Suffolk libraries. I agreed it was a good idea. However, on the morning of the march, when I woke up, one of my first thoughts was “what have we done?!”, closely followed by “what if nobody turns up?!”.

Sitting on the steps of Endeavour House at 10.30am, I was even more worried. I’d spoken to local newspapers, radio and television promising hundreds of people would turn up. There were 4 of us. I started a chant “what do we want?” “more than 4 people!” “when do we want it?” “before 11am!”.

I needn’t have worried. By 11am there were well over 250 people there, and we held the march back until 11.15am to make sure that everyone was there before we started – including a specially hired bus from Eye!

We set off through the town, making a lot of noise, with some excellent banners. It was very exciting to stop traffic and take up the whole road with our march, I was genuinely amazed at how many people turned up! We certainly gathered people as we went, ending up with over 350 people at Giles Circus.

During the day I spoke to people from all across Suffolk, a young lady and her mum who had travelled fromLowestoft to show their love of libraries, despite not being comfortable in large crowds. I spoke to people who had travelled from Capel St Mary who are furious that the hub of their community is under threat of being taken away. I spoke to a family from Saxmundham, who had marched in Stradbroke in the rain and wanted to show their children that sometimes marches took place in the dry!

The children on the march were brilliant, chanting, dressed up as their favourite book characters, holding home made banners, blowing whistles and speaking to the press as though it was something they did every day.

County Library staff were more than accommodating of us, allowing us to march through the library, it was one of the highlights of the day, seeing the large banners being taken through the doors was highly entertaining, as was the way that everyone suddenly went very quiet….best library voices all round!

The speeches at Giles Circus were well received; author Nicci Gerrard spoke of her love of libraries and it was a pleasure to have her march with us. Campaigners from Leiston, Stradbroke and Ixworth also spoke of their local campaigns, and the struggle that they are facing. I spoke briefly about my love of libraries and led the crowd in three cheers for the library service – and the library users.

Last Saturday we had a documentary film maker at Rosehill speaking to people who use the library. He interviewed a range of people; family groups, children, people who have moved to the area specifically because of proximity to the library, one library user talked about borrowing talking books because she drives a lot for work. One woman who has returned toIpswichwith her husband after retiring talked about her grandmother using Rosehill library right up to the week before she died at 103.

Our latest campaign move was to submit a portfolio of evidence to a Legal Firm who are working on behalf of similar campaign groups across the country, as we believe that SCC, along with many other county councils will be breaking the Public Libraries and Museum’s Act of 1964 by not providing a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service as there is a very real chance that some libraries WILL close. The consultation papers states clearly that libraries will be closed to save money:

“If the response to this consultation is disappointing, and the county council does not receive viable proposals and ideas from people, groups, businesses and other interested parties for ways to run community libraries, we propose that funding will stop from 2012.”

 So, why are we doing all of this?

Quite simply we are doing this as we are concerned over the future of the Suffolk Library Service and the detrimental effect it’s loss would have.

If we lose the library service, we aren’t just losing access to reading for pleasure.

Tomorrow, for example you can join a children’s Easter egg hunt at Great Cornard library, or attend the Alzheimers Society outreach programme at Sudbury library.

Taken from the Suffolk County Council Library website [all text in bold], these are a few of the things that we will lose from our communities if we lose our libraries, including responses from the 2010 Public Library User Survey to show how they will be missed.

All Suffolk libraries are Leap Points and offer information, advice and sign-posting to local learning opportunities.  Suffolk has a below UK average literacy rate, and it’s take up of post-16 education is also amongst the lowest in the country.  Closing the libraries takes away access to a world of information and education, it takes way access to study space – one Uuiversity Campus Suffolk student based at West Suffolk College stood up and told the public meeting at Stradbroke that he would not have been able to complete his course without his local public library to study in.

Libraries run children’s groups: Baby Bounce, Storytime and Tot Rock rhyme and rhythm – all vital links for young families.

From the 2010 Public LibraryUser Survey: “I think the book start, book crawl sticker collection/certificates for the children is a great idea. My children love choosing story books to take home and they also enjoy reading challenges held in the summer holidays. They have their certificates all over their bedroom walls – at ages 3 and 5 years I’m sure the regular visits to this library has helped their love of books and reading. Thank you to all the staff.”

They run TopTime sessions, aimed at older people and family carers. “Apart from just being a friendly place to drop in and have a chat, there are book and theatre groups, arts and crafts, local history as well as advice and information.”

From the 2010 Public LibraryUser Survey: “Since being widowed I have had difficulty in making contact and friends. But Top Time has helped me gain confidence & friendship. The staff are friendly and welcoming – I look forward to Thursdays. Thank you. I will get back to reading books soon”

They run Suffolk READS to promote reading for pleasure and building reading skills for everyone inSuffolk, with summer reading schemes for children:

From the 2010 a Public LibraryUser Survey: “We moved from London to Ixworth in 2003, the library service is excellent compared to those in London. Joining the library was one of the first things we did on moving to the village and I believe it was a great benefit to our settling into the village. Our daughter has participated in the reading game since she was 18 months and I am sure this has contributed to her love of books and the fact that she can borrow 20 books (and does!) has lead to her having a reading age of 12 when she is in fact only 8 years old”

The Suffolk At Home LibraryService brings the library to housebound people. With the support of library staff, local WRVS volunteers regularly take books and tapes to over 2000 people in their own homes, in sheltered accommodation and residential nursing homes.

The Libraries, Archive and Information Service help to run Suffolk InfoLink a directory of local groups, organisations, services and activities, ranging from sports and social clubs to social care and health support.

In the 2010 Modernisation Review of Public Libraries, SCC Library Services was used as example of best practice in the three different areas: the Department of Health’s Information on Prescription initiative for people with long term conditions; the mobile library service which it was noted “has longer stops for community activities allowing other advisers and services to reach rural communities. New satellite dishes on the vans provide full online use of the internet and the library catalogue’ and finally, Sunday opening:  The most innovative libraries are changing – opening later in the evening and opening on Sundays.  For example, in Suffolk Sunday opening was introduced across the whole service in 2003 with a view to attracting 5,200 additional visitors per week. That happened and seven years later the service continues to attract more people and all 44 libraries remain open on Sunday”’.

I’d like to quote one final time from the Public Library User Survey, from a response about Rosehill, which I think sums up our brilliant public library service:

“I have always loved libraries and Rosehill is no exception – in fact, despite being tiny, it’s one of the best. Friendly and helpful staff make the library a very welcoming place; the bookstock is kept in very good condition and – again despite the limitations of being a small branch library – is varied enough to promote serendipity. I was retired early on the grounds of permanent ill-health, so reading is one of the few things I can do a lot of. SCC’s library service as exemplified at Rosehill is excellent: I can reserve books in the comfort of my home from the whole county’s stock, and they turn up efficiently as soon as available. To me, that’s marvellous – as is the fact that Rosehill library is 5 minutes walk from my home! I don’t use the IT facilities in the library, as I have my own computer and broadband access at home, but I can see that they are well-used & must be very valuable for people who haven’t got their own. I can’t praise Rosehill and the library service enough – please may it never be privatised or ‘charity-ised’. It has literally been a lifeline to me: when I had to retire I felt useless and depressed. Knowing the library and all its resources were there helped me out of that. Thank you.”

Suffolkhas a library service to be proud of, it has developed links and placed itself in the centre of communities, and we believe that this is how it should continue to be run, with unwavering support from Her Majesty’s Government.

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One Response to “The Women’s Institute joins the fight!”

  1. Steve June 9, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

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