A highly successful and angry meeting was held in the Library of Birmingham last night, to protest against the proposed huge cuts to its budget. The meeting was organised by the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage and it filled the Studio Theatre with about 200 people.
Ian Grosvenor from the Friends introduced the meeting saying that the proposed cut of £1.5m for 2015-16 would see an end to the outreach service and community engagement activities and that the loss of over 100 staff would leave the library providing an over-the-counter service only. He then introduced a panel of speakers, which included writers and readers, UNISON and the Friends of the Library of Birmingham, all of whom stressed the need for adequate staffing to maintain a proper level of service in general, and to look after and build the essential archive facilities in particular. Without these staff, the archive would wither, resources could be withdrawn by lenders and the status of the library as a place of research for so many people would go into a steep decline.
The many other activities that the Lob provided would cease as well, such as activities for visiting school children.
As if this year’s cuts were not bad enough, even more are threatened for the future, leading to an overall cut of 40% for the LoB over the next few years. Its sustainability as a proper library, never mind as a prestige project, would be put into question. It would be a source of shame and embarrassment that things were coming to this. One could go further and say that Birmingham would become a laughing stock if it could not even maintain its own library. (And we should not forget the huge threats to the community libraries as well.)
Many speakers were taken from the floor, who were similarly appalled at what was happening. There was Spoz for example, an ex-poet laureate for the city. There was Carl Chinn, who added his angry voice, demanding that the city re-municipalise itself by taking back control of utilities such as gas and water, and using money from such resources to aid its budget. He proposed a resolution, that ‘this meeting unanimously gives its solidarity to the library staff and to the archive’. A vote was taken and the vote was . . . . unanimous.
Hopefully, that vote included the one representative from the Council present, Councillor Phil Davis (Billesley – Lab), who made the familiar speech about how it was all the government’s fault due to the insufficient grant, how the powers of local councils had been drastically curbed and that there was little that the Labour Councillors could do.
Time to Resist!
Well, there is one thing that could be done; Councillors who offer warm words of support could act where it matters, in the Council Chamber, by speaking out and voting against the cuts to the Library of Birmingham. Hand-wringing and sympathy is just no good any more. Speakers from the floor criticised their passivity and one said that said that if they could not oppose, then they should resign.
Albert Bore said in the consultation meetings that if the Labour Group did not set a balanced budget the government would send in commissioners to run the city. But the point was made last night that by doing the government’s dirty work for it, the Labour Council were already acting as the commissioners; they are already here!
Campaigning for a Municipal Library
Ann Gallagher, from the Friends of the Library of Birmingham, announced its next planning meeting and invited people to take part. It will be on Monday 12th January at 5.30pm on the 19th Floor of the McLaren building, Priory Queensway.
We should also bear in mind that Saturday February 7th is national Library Day, and that a public activity is most likely to be organised on that day.
Cabinet member Penny Holbrook, (Stockland Green –Lab) has muddied the water by saying that discussions will begin with the British Library which might lead to some kind of joint solution to the problem.
No, Birmingham needs its own central and community libraries, owned and run by the municipality, with adequate properly trained and paid staff. We do not need to depend on confusing manoeuvres and lash-ups, still less on business sponsorship or philanthropy, as one person unfortunately suggested at the meeting.
It is time to return to the idea of municipality as Carl Chinn says, but that will mean some serious and united campaigning. Last night’s success showed that a good start has been made.
For the second week running there was a successful petitioning session outside of the Library of Birmingham today. Over four hundred more names were collected to demand that the proposed cuts to this library’s services be reversed. A great deal of anger was encountered.
It seems almost unbelievable that this kind of thing should be necessary. It was just over a year ago (September 3rd 2013) that the Library of Birmingham was opened with a great fanfare, and now the Labour Council is planning to cut the opening hours from 73 to 40, to sack 100 staff and consequently to greatly reduce the level of service on offer, for example access to photographic records, as headlined by the Birmingham Post.
Today, as well as the many people arriving to access the library services, there were many visitors from outside of the city, from across the UK and from abroad; Spain, Indonesia and Australia for example. One may not agree with the view that the Lob is ‘unashamedly a prestige project’, as a leading library figure claimed not so long ago, but even in those terms a decision to reduce access would be a massive own goal.
And how will the Councillors responsible for its upkeep feel to be remembered as the people who put the boot into the library only a year after it opened? As we have said many times before, it is no good (correctly) blaming central government for the cut to the Birmingham Council grant (two thirds of its income) if at the same time you do not do everything in your power in terms of militant campaigning to resist and reverse this onslaught on the city. Yet no Labour councillors have been involved in the “Friends of the Library of Birmingham” or have stood outside in the cold for hours explaining the situation to LoB users and asking for signatures, let alone organising rallies or demonstrations, or actually threatening to vote down cuts budgets in the Council chamber itself.
Fortunately, other people have stepped up to the mark. Apart from the “Friends of the Library of Birmingham”, the “Friends of the Birmingham Archive and Heritage” have made a move. They have called a meeting in the LoB next Wednesday at 5pm, in the Library Studio Theatre on the ground floor.
Please come along and express your views, and if you have not yet signed the petition you can do so on the post below.
NB The closing date for the consultation over next year’s budget is 12th January, which is the same day as the next planning meeting of the Friends of the Library of Birmingham, at 5.30 pm on the 19th Floor of the McClaren Tower, Priory Queensway.
Birmingham City Council has proposed in its most recent budget proposals a massive cut to the Library of Birmingham of at least £1.5 million for the next financial year.
In the succeeding year more than DOUBLE is planned at a huge £3.3 million per year cut.
The effects of these proposed cuts will mean -
1. Slashing the hours of the library by 40%.
2. Stopping new books purchased.
3. Restricting open access to the archives for scholars & researchers of all sorts.
4. Reducing to nothing library outreach work & in-house exhibitions & displays.
5. Sacking 100 staff posts.
“We, the undersigned, call upon Birmingham City Council to REVERSE your proposed cuts to the Library of Birmingham & our Community Libraries. Invest in our city & out futures.”
This Friends of the Library of Birmingham petition can be signed here;