There has been a lot of talk recently about government spending cuts and in particular how this will affect arts and culture. The short answer is, these cuts will greatly affect arts and culture, from museums to libraries to concert halls to heritage sites, plus the ability for schools to access these provisions.
The situation surrounding libraries has been big news in my local area. The cuts will be significant, with 10 of 18 local libraries due to close. As a writer, a reader, and a person who has made my career in the cultural sector, I find this very upsetting. A few high profile authors, such as Philip Pullman and children’s laureate Julia Donaldson, have made their disappointment known, writing an open letter to the local council to protest against the closures.
I know that cuts have to be made, but it really makes me think about the value (or lack of) that has been placed on libraries and everything that comes with them – reading, storytelling, meeting, learning and creating. Books and information can be accessed digitally, and that’s great, but it’s not for everyone. And it’s not just that; it’s the fact that a library stands for something – here is a physical place where reading is promoted, encouraged and appreciated.
When I think of libraries I think of Roald Dahl’s Matilda – a child who gets no encouragement from her family but who finds an outlet for her enquiring mind at her local library. This is of course an idealised view, and perhaps libraries aren’t used as much as they used to be. So perhaps that’s why they have been viewed as an easy thing to cut, since they are apparently a thing that people won’t miss. But I think this outpouring of disappointment and upset at the proposals shows that many people think differently. It could very well be a case of a good thing being taken for granted – we all expect our local libraries to just be there, but as soon as someone says they will disappear, we realise just how much they are valued, and how much we will miss them when they are gone.