CILIP President Dawn Finch: speech at the Speak Up for Libraries lobby on 9 February

Photograph of Speak Up for libraries lobby authors & supporters at Houses of Parliament, February 2016

A thank you

This is a most remarkable gathering. I look around and I see the faces of so many people who have devoted a great deal of time to something that we shouldn’t have to do – save and protect our libraries.

I want to start by saying how much I admire and respect the library campaigners. Without the tireless dedication of people who stand around me now we would not be here now. You are the voices that can be heard, and you speak for all the people who have restrictions placed on what they can say. You are here for all the people who cannot be here today. You are the people who have not let our libraries go gently into that dark night, and we owe you a great debt of gratitude for all your hard work.

So why do we want to save libraries and protect the skills and employment of the librarians who run them? This seems like a no-brainer to those of us who know what libraries do for their communities, but maybe some people have not seen this firsthand.

Opportunity and need

I know what it is like to grow up in a house where parents are forced to make the decision between heating and eating. I know exactly how important the library is to people who live on a poverty knife-edge. I would not be standing here now if it was not for the library. As a voracious reader the library was a safe haven, a warm place where I could feel a sense of belonging. It gave me an escape route and provided me with opportunities I might not have otherwise had. I know how important libraries are for people in dire straits. Libraries can both change and save lives, and they do – every single day.

Some people would have us believe that libraries have no relevance in the 21st Century. This is simply not true and with almost 260 million visits to libraries last year we have solid evidence that they are an essential place in our communities.

Every single person working at a high level in their field has, at some point, relied on a library.  From our school libraries to our public libraries, everyone who has ever studied has used a library. What would these people be if they had never had access to a library? Who would they be?

A legal right to what libraries provide

Millions of people have found a route to a better life via their library and, with the support of a skilled professional, they have found a way forward. How would our society function if that support and access to information was taken away? What sort of devastating gaps would we see in our society in the long term if we no longer have libraries and librarians?

We should not even need to have this conversation. The societal value of our public libraries has been long established and, because of it, the Government has a standing legal obligation to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. The fact that this has not been happening is now being legally challenged via the CILIP My Library By Right initiative.

Ask your MP

I hope that many of you have managed to secure appointments with your MPs today. When you meet them, have some questions prepared.

Ask your MP why the commitment to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service is not being met?

Ask why many MPs have been able to stand by whilst a vital public service has been hollowed out?

Tell them, and show them, what libraries and librarians contribute to their communities and show them the difference they make.

Ask them to support the Early Day Motion from Speak Up For Libraries, and to encourage their colleagues to do the same.

This is not just about us, and it’s not just about today – this is about the future success of our communities and the greater success of society as a whole. This is about ensuring that future generations have access to the one place that is best equipped to support literacy, education, employment, social engagement, health and wellbeing.

It’s not rocket science, but without libraries there will be no rocket science.


Photographer credit: Rolf Marriott