IF the burning of books is the hallmark of a dictatorship, then the mass closure of the buildings which supply them must be regarded as a tragedy. It is also an outrage. Plans to shut dozens of libraries across Yorkshire are misguided, short-term and unfair. Cuts across local government are inevitable but ill-thought decisions like this are typical of elected politicians who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
The people most harmed by Yorkshire’s largest programme of library closures are the most vulnerable: children, the elderly and the poor. They rely on libraries because they cannot afford books or the computers needed to access the internet. For some children, they are the only places that have the materials and the peace needed to do homework in the evening.
It says little for councils’ sense of local development if they take away the resources which help people learn and communicate and even less for the Big Society if spending cuts mean voluntary groups are too impoverished to take over library management.
There are numerous other ways local government can save money and savings should be directed elsewhere before council unilaterally remove this key part of cultural life.
Successive governments must also shoulder part of the blame for this fiasco. While presiding over a system in which local authorities are legally obliged to provide certain services, such as rubbish collection and social care, they did not do enough to ensure that every community has access to a library. While they may have thought that Britain would never be so financially crippled that libraries would be under threat, that day has now arrived.
The argument used by some local authorities to justify closures – that small libraries in rural areas attract few visitors – is particularly alarming because it implies that certain sparsely populated parts of Yorkshire’s countryside are somehow not worth the bother. This is absurd.
Surely reduced hours, or a more innovative use of existing premises would be far more preferable than simply closing down branches? This option should be consider as one chapter ends, and another begins, in the library closure debate.