From the GUARDIAN
Philip Pullman has lambasted Brent council for its comment that closing half of its libraries would help it fulfil "exciting plans to improve libraries", describing the statement as a "masterpiece" which "ought to be quoted in every anthology of political bullshit from here to eternity". "All the time, you see, the council had been longing to improve the library service, and the only thing standing in the way was – the libraries,” said the His Dark Materials author, speaking at the national conference of library campaigners on Saturday, where over 80 people from around the country gathered to share tactics on how to save the UK's beleaguered libraries.
With 600 of England’s libraries threatened with closure, Pullman called the campaigners’ battle a "war against stupidity". Citing campaigns to save libraries in Oxfordshire as well as in Brent, Pullman said "the war we're fighting is not against this party or that one, this flag or another flag, our parents or our MP or anyone else in particular: it’s against stupidity. And stupidity is not to be underestimated. The poet Schiller, whose great words on the subject of Joy were set in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, knew what a huge part stupidity plays in human affairs: 'Against stupidity,' he said, 'the gods themselves struggle in vain.'
Having worked himself as a library assistant in Charing Cross Road library in the early 70s, Pullman said "if you really want complete freedom of choice, complete openness of information, where nobody is spying on you, no one is selling your presence to advertisers, the only place to find it is a library, where they keep books."
He highlighted the Summer Reading Challenge, run by the Reading Agency, which encourages children to read six books over the summer holidays. This year a record 780,000 children took part. "Only the libraries could provide the materials and the staff to make this possible. And nothing could be more important, if we have the well-being of our children at heart," said Pullman.
After listening in on sessions at the conference – which covered everything from legal challenges to library closures to using volunteers to keep libraries open – Pullman said he "saluted everyone who's come here today, everyone who's protesting and demonstrating to save this library or that one, everyone who's devising a way of preserving one of the greatest and the best gifts any society has ever given its seekers after truth, its children, its old people, everyone who is looking for help better to enjoy life or better to endure it".
"There's nothing more valuable in the war against stupidity than the public library. These are hard times, but you are each guarding a beacon," said the author. "The book is second only to the wheel as the best piece of technology human beings have ever invented. A book symbolises the whole intellectual history of mankind; it's the greatest weapon ever devised in the war against stupidity. Beware of anyone who tries to make books harder to get at. And that is exactly what these closures are going to do – oh, not intentionally, except in a few cases; very few people are stupid intentionally; but that will be the effect. Books will be harder to get at. Stupidity will gain a little ground."
The conference’s organisers, The Library Campaign and Voices for the Library, said that one demand from the day was to take the fight to save libraries to a national level, with suggestions including a march on Downing Street. Pullman said that "if it was at all possible", he would join them.
"We already share the same determination," said The Library Campaign chair Laura Swaffield. "If councils insist on fighting us instead of working with us, we will fight back. If central government goes on shirking its duty to support libraries, we will keep on at them. We won't give up. We can’t."