Considering the full impact of library cuts

Considering the full impact of library cuts

We thought we’d start off 2017 with a post that combines the personal, professional and political, all rolled into one!

Last week CILIP, the professional body for libraries and information professionals, highlighted the role these fast diminishing public spaces play in supporting young people with mental health needs.

Often coverage of library closures, and the inspiring local groups protecting and taking them on, focuses on the power and importance of access to fiction books – the treasure trove of imagination, empathy and experience. That’s a part of the argument very close to our own hearts, as a team of bookworms, book bloggers and library campaigners ourselves.

But Nick Poole, head of CILIP, has cast an important light on the role of non-fiction books and information materials too – easy, free access to resources on anxiety, stress, exams and bullying, for example. Of course, there’s lots available on the internet, when sought out, but we all know the value of spotting something on a shelf that seems it was waiting there for us to find it. And the stories of libraries providing safe, calm spaces – refuges from whatever is troubling a young person in the outside world – cannot be overlooked.

As Nick rightly points out, libraries in their many forms have, when not struck down by budget cuts, been leading the way in developing and hosting wellbeing initiatives – everything from yoga and mindfulness sessions, to the Reading Agency’s Reading Well Scheme, dedicated to children and young people, which shows how the internet and real-world spaces can work together to signpost and support.

There can be no doubting the continuing power and passion of the movement to protect libraries from short-sighted closure by admittedly highly-pressured councils – a movement uniting everyone from household names to first-time campaigners of all ages. Social media is proving a crucial weapon in the armoury of local and national groups alike, all the more important given the simultaneous cuts to local and regional newspapers. But this is a campaign which has to run and run, facing up to repeated closure attempts, often in small towns and villages where it can be difficult to cast a strong enough spotlight.

There is a huge communications challenge here, in maintaining and building national interest in the collective impact of what could otherwise risk being dismissed as ‘local issues’. Organisations such as CILIP, alongside projects like Speak Up for Libraries, Voices for the Library and the Library Campaign, need support in forming and sharing that national picture, and individual charities and interest groups must bring their collective weight behind these networks, without diluting the message, to make clear the full impact of these cuts on so many groups and issues – mental health among them.