Monday, 18 February 2013

Writers Against Moray Library Closures

Those of you following me on Twitter and Facebook will have noticed a bit of a radical turn in my posts of late. Gone are the cutesy pictures of new bub and rants about dodgy builders in the neighbourhood of my, er, house. For the time being my immediate focus is on the travesty of the outrageous 100% arts funding cuts in Moray, which includes the closure of seven libraries.

I'm not the only one tackling this issue; the esteemed playwright and artist John Byrne has spoken out to the Herald. As you can see the savings are piffling - they wouldn't cover the annual wear and tear on one ministerial limo but the Tory leader of the Council's administration group - Allan Wright - has already stated these cuts are "but a start".

The idea of standing up for the people of Moray doesn't seem to have entered into the Cooncil's 'thinking' ... and I use the term 'thinking' very loosely. This is a Cooncil, after all, that decided to launch its celebration of libraries week in the same breath as cutting seven of said libraries! As Janice Forsyth said, on Twitter today: perhaps they should go to the library and look up irony!

Certainly Mr Wright - who will from here on in be referred to as Mr Wrong - needs to spend some more time in a library, if indeed he has ever set foot in one. His one-word reply to my own letter of concern was another farce which served only to highlight the arrogance of this Cooncil.

Mr Wrong and his cronies need to be told that the people of Moray - and wider afield - are not standing for these cuts. Simply accepting Westminster edicts to slash and burn their community is not why they were elected. If Mr Wrong can't do his job without hurting the people he is supposed to serve he should stand down.

Some trimming from the top of the tree - instead of the vulnerable roots - might be the answer. After all, this is a Cooncil which pays its Chief Executive Roddy Burns a basic salary of: £104,562. At a time when we are all - except bankers, and Cooncil leaders, it seems - being asked to share the burden of our country's parlous financial state, perhaps Mr Burns would like to fall on his sword too. A 100% cut to his income would have far less impact on the wider community, I'm sure.

These savings in the overall picture, and certainly by banker bonus standards, might not pay for a post-prandial round of Armagnac at the Bullingdon Club but they would do a damn-sight more good. We need libraries. We need the arts. And that's why I've enlisted some of our most eloquent writers to tell Moray Council what we think of their actions:

MARK BILLINGHAM, author, said: "Everyone knows that libraries are crucial to our cultural well-being, but in many cases they are also the heart of a local community. Closing them is beyond ridiculous; it's obscene."

STUART MACBRIDE: "I can't believe any council thinks it's a good idea to completely eliminate their arts funding. Moray council might think that libraries, theatre, art, and music don't matter, but they're incredibly important for who we are both individually and collectively. Never mind the fact that this decision's doing the region's reputation no good at all, it's an act of staggering cultural vandalism and the people of Moray deserve better."

ALEX GRAY, author, said: "Libraries are the lifeblood of communities especially in straitened times and I shudder to think how people can bear to see their own library threatened with closure. Reading can be a form of escape from the hideous realities around us and everyone deserves the chance to pass their precious leisure time in the company of good books."

LIN ANDERSON, author, said: "I used to teach at Grantown Grammar School. Family home is in Carrbridge. Very distressed to hear about Moray council's decision to shut libraries."

DOUGLAS JACKSON, author, said: "I think it's an absolute disgrace, particularly given the level of support shown for the library service in Moray Council's own consultation process. It looks as if they've chosen libraries as an easy target because they think users aren't the type of people to make a noise about the closures. It's an attack on literacy, because these will be libraries in rural areas, where alternative access to books won't be readily available. Schools introduce children to reading, but it's in the library where they can make their own choices that they learn to love books. I hope the people of Moray surprise the Philistines on the council and campaign to have the decision overturned."

CRAIG ROBERTSON, author, said: "Public libraries are as vital as free education. They are an integral part of the community and the shameful intended closures will hurt those who need them most, particularly children and the elderly. The right to read should not be dependent on council budgets."

ALINE TEMPLETON, author, said: "Libraries are the key to instilling a love of reading in children, opening the door to educational success. For the elderly, they are not only a source of reading matter they couldn't afford to buy but also a significant social benefit for the lonely and isolated. I'm surprised that Moray Council should care so little for the education of its children and the comfort of its elderly."

PAUL JOHNSTON: "We need libraries, not insolent beancounters who'll soon be out of a job. I wonder how many of them ever stepped inside a library."

CATHI UNSWORTH, author, said: "As far as I am concerned, all library closures are a disgusting form of censorship and betrayal, a denial of a free service for all that is as essential as the NHS and state education. Knowledge is power, as those who would deny us our access to books fully understand."

SEAN BLACK, author, said: "Scotland is a country that prides itself on its sense of community and the value of education. Don't let Moray council undermine that by closing libraries."

NICK BARLAY, author, said: "Although I'm far from Moray and its libraries, every library closure is a crime against us all.

SHONA MACLEAN, author, said: "I am so saddened to hear about the Moray Library closures. Libraries, to me, are not some esoteric branch of 'the arts', but a real, inclusive and invaluable service to the community. I know from my experience of library visits that they provide a focal point where young and old can integrate in a way that 'the digital age' cannot replicate. As a mother of four children, I have many happy memories of library visits where staff went out of their way to inculcate a love of stories in the very young, to make us all welcome. For older, still very mentally active people, through reading groups and special events, they provide an opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and indulge a love of books. This seems to me one more step in the insidious, alienating journey towards keeping the elderly, the unemployed and the stay-at-home parents in their houses, cut off from others through lack of anywhere to go. I can't believe that this is the Scotland we want."

GORDON BROWN, author, said: "Libraries represent the heart of the reading world for many. It is easy in this day and age of e-books and cut price deals to assume that these make up for the loss of the local library. But libraries are about exploration and community. They are about sharing experiences, being told about new books and enjoying the social side of reading in a way that cannot be replaced. Within the library librarians are not just there to check out your book they are people with years of experience in directing, informing and helping people explore literature. Libraries may need to change to reflect the world. No one believes that they can stay as they are but as local centres for events, activity and meetings they are ideal. Using libraries as social centres, meeting halls etc would seem a far better way to proceed rather than lose something that when gone will probably never return. Reinvention not execution. It is a thought that needs explored before we amputate a limb of the reading body in this country."

EMLYN REES, author, said: "More sad and depressing news about library closures. But this is less of a cut back and more of an obliteration. Cultural vandalism at it's worst."

MOIRA MCPARTLIN, author, said: "Libraries are an easy target for cuts. Quality is hard to measure so they use the economic to make the case for closure. Libraries are not the nostalgia pieces councils make them out to be. They are the cultural hub of some communities. A society without culture looses its some of its civil responsibility. To destroy any part of our culture is a step backwards in our evolution. That might sound a bit heavy but it's true and councils wont realize it until we are living in a jungle. Then they'll blame someone else."

DOUG JOHNSTONE: "Closing any library is a disgrace, and Moray Council need to rethink this decision immediately."

:: Tell Moray Council what you think of their plans to cut arts funding or add your comments to this post below.