Last year I visited Cardiff Central Library for a meeting with librarians and publishers to present and showcase future books. I was supposed to be ‘selling’ Something About a Bear” in 5 minutes, but found myself instead saying thank you to the librarians who were there. Libraries changed my life, played a huge part in making me the artist and writer I am today. They also allow me to reach out to children who, like myself, feel unsure of themselves, uncomfortable in their own skins and maybe a bit scared of life by giving me a platform, a stage, so that I can say to kids, “look, when I was your age I couldn’t read well, and only the love of stories helped me to find the way.” It sometimes helps.
Cardiff Central library, voted one of the top six libraries in the world is now going through a second year of budget cuts. Last year they lost the top floor, a quarter of their staff, and closed one day a week. Next year it is to become a Super Hub losing two more floors when Marland House (the housing benefit and council tax centre) moves into the building. This means the adult section of the library will become a fringe activity around a busy city advice centre and a huge proportion of stock will be lost to make space for it.
Cardiff will lose 7 branch libraries (including a newly restored Carnegie building). With five more years of government cuts planned, the future of the library service looks pretty grim. The trend is to ‘hand buildings over to the community’ and use unpaid staff. What’s most concerning is not just the job losses but that the public library service is being dismantled. Once stock and buildings go, we won’t get them back. Hundreds of books have already been weeded out and library staff have been banned by the council from discussing budget cuts with the media, the public or making any kind of reference to this subject on social media.
This is one of the scariest things. That library staff are banned from talking to the media. They are in fear of their jobs. Surely it should be council staff who stand against free speech who should be in fear of their position for even suggesting that people who work in libraries are forbidden from speaking out against destruction of the library services? It all seems very Alice in Wonderland.
We are living in a time of austerity and many more people need a warm place to go to in the day. Libraries are the only free space where we can meet in the winter. We have a right to participate in cultural life and to have access to books and computers for learning and leisure. These things are essential for a democracy. If we don’t put up a fight for these libraries now, we won’t get another chance.
But libraries aren’t just about meeting places, mother and toddler groups etc. Libraries still hold a store of knowledge. They provide access to the internet for many who do not have wifi or computers at home. Librarians help people to learn to navigate through this marvellous ocean of knowledge.
In Liverpool, 11 libraries where saved when 500 authors, musicians and educators wrote to the mayor along with hundreds of school children sending love library letters.*
The love letters were described at the time as being ‘despicable’ by the Mayor of Liverpool. I want to be despicable now.
Be part of history. Defend our library service in our capital city. Make the council provide a comprehensive service as the1964 Libraries and Museums Act demands. Write your love library letter to the leader of Cardiff council before 8 January. Exercise your freedom of speech by discussing library cuts freely on Twitter, Facebook, Walesonline and letters to the papers. Show solidarity with library staff who have been banned from doing so.
Address your letters/emails to
Leader of Cardiff council
Cllr Phil Bale
Cardiff, CF10 4UW
with copies to:
Cllr Sue Lent
7 Pen-Y-Wain Place
Tel 02920 493980 / 07790962764
Cllr Peter Bradbury (libraries portfolio)
10 Yarrow Close
I will write because I can. And one of the reasons I can is because I had access to so many books through the library system when I was a child.
We have taken away student grants and burdened our young people with debt. Let’s not be the generation that closes libraries.
If you are a teacher, a child, a parent, f you are a bookseller, a publisher, a writer, poet, artist, maker of music, of design, if you are a doctor, a surgeon, a cleaner, a taxi driver, if ever a library has done anything for you, your parents, your children then write a letter. Not a letter of anger, but a letter of love, to your library and make copies to send to those who would try to govern us. God alone knows they need some help if these are the decisions they come up with through their uncreative short term thinking.
Because you can.
And if you want to leave a copy of your letter here too in the comments box then please do. And tweet and facebook and encourage as many people as you can to do the same.
We can make a change, one person at a time. And if we all join together it can be a big change.
This is my letter. It’s to all libraries, not just Cardiff. I will be sending a covering letter to each person on the list above.
I am writing this letter in part to thank you but also to tell you what you mean and have meant to me in my life. My thanks to you are long overdue. I have been so busy in my life I have not had time before to stop and think, too busy earning a living, raising a family. It is only now that you are under threat that I have begun to realize how much I owe to you. It is not impossible to imagine that without you I would not be sitting here now, writing at all, were it not for you, as it is quite possible that I would not be able to write.
I learned the basics of writing at school but was slow to really grasp the trick of it all. At home we had so few books, maybe a handful. My father was a policeman, my mother a housewife and both had left school at the age of 14 to work. It did not occur to me as a child that we couldn’t afford books as money isn’t something many small children have to think about or try to understand. Certainly it is possible that both my parents grew up in houses with no books.
But I did have a library ticket. A small, beige, cardboard wallet, smaller than a credit card, into which would slip stamped cards with their own unique coding as I took six books a week out from the library.
Now, thinking back to the child that I was I remember the excitement of choosing and taking home such an incredible wealth of books each week. And this was how I really learned to read, frowned at by my grandmother who thought it a lazy pastime, encouraged by my parents who wanted a good education for me and my sister so we could make our way in the world.
What I discovered within the walls of the library was a future unlimited by class expectations. First I learned to read, prowling along the shelves, sometimes free, at other times guided by a librarian whose knowledge of books was so astonishing. As a child I thought the men and women who worked in the libraries lived there, owned all the books and were so generous to share them with us.
Hundreds of pounds worth of books came home with me every month and were returned and exchanged, far more than our family could possibly afford, from this place of common wealth, feeding my habit of literacy. I used the public library and the school library with equal enthusiasm.
I loved to see the journeys the books had made, each date stamp telling its own story. Some books had been wallflowers, sitting on the shelf for months, others so popular they had to be ordered and set aside. If sometimes i took out books far beyond my understanding, or just for the joy of looking at the pictures you never judged me. And all the time I learned and grew in understanding. And I loved you.
As a teenager when I was going through such changes, awakening in understanding you came to mean so much more. A safe place away from home. More than this. So important. My parents wanted me to work in a shop. My teachers thought I could work in a museum. I wanted to be an artist. In your walls I found books about art, artists. I learned about primitive art, the Renaissance, Impressionists, fell in love with Van Gogh, learned about early photography, war reporting, art and politics, even that women could become artists. Imagine. Huge expensive, lavishly illustrated art books came home with me carrying with them the scent of the library, the smell of knowledge and nurtured my teenage dreams. All this I found within your walls.
At art college there was still more. Now I discovered a library almost entirely devoted to art. I would say I only attained my place at college because of you, because you gave me access to books, knowledge and through that confidence.
You changed my life, opened my horizons, enabled me to fulfill my ambitions.
Now, as an illustrator, writer, artist and photographer I often find myself working in libraries. I’ve worked in city libraries and small branch libraries, school libraries. I have exhibited in The National Library of Wales, Harringay, Balham and other libraries. Cardiff library was a joy to visit, but so was Triorci, tucked away in the valleys. I have found that you have changed. You now have bright, open buildings, lower shelves, are warm and light, almost always busy and seldom as hushed as you once were. Can you imagine how I felt when I was asked by Milford Library if my paintings could be used to decorate the walls? Huge reproductions standing like great pages in the library. I gave them freely, proud to be able to be a part of the library. Can you imagine what it feels like for me to now walk through your doors and find books i have written, illustrated on your shelves. But better still, can you imagine what it feels like when after reading in a library a child asks you how can they join, how can they take home the books. Can you imagine how this might lead to their horizons suddenly opening. These are the teachers, doctors, librarians, lawyers, surgeons, writers, dancers and singers of the future. To help them to join you is the best of all things. Seeing that burning desire for books in them.
But I realize now that I have taken you for granted for far too long, as we often do with things, people we love so much. I thought others would stand in guardianship over you for future generations. That the investment of decades, in books, buildings and librarians would be built upon, that others also knew your worth, appreciated all that you are. Now I see that you are under threat of cuts, have already had so much cut back and I want to tell you how important you are to me, to the future of the country in which I live and even with all the learning I have I cannot find the words.
So, how can I help others to see your true value, not in terms of assets, but in terms of heart? Only by asking everyone to whom a library has ever been important in their life to send a letter, or a card, even just a few lines, in support of what you are. You, who hold so much within your walls. Not just in Cardiff, Birmingham, Liverpool, Hull, Huddersfield, Bicester, Oxford, Cheltenham, Durham, Exeter and not just writers, artists, but all people, young and old.
You were founded years ago by people who realized that giving universal access to knowledge to everyone made for a stronger, healthier country. We should love you more, protect your future, invest in you, because each and every local library is a part of a national treasure.
You changed my life. My wish is that I can now do something to change yours, in the only way I know how. By writing.
There is an online petition you can add your signature too.
From The public Library by Thomas Greenwood 1890