A member of the libraries campaign has suggested that I publish the speech I made at the Preston Library Campaign hustings last week. This is the gist of what I said:
I am speaking primarily as the Green Party spokesperson for children and families, because I am particularly concerned about the impact of the closures on young children. I did child care for a pupil of Preston Park Primary who used the library regularly, did her homework there and always felt secure with helpful staff available. But of course it is not just Preston Library but five others that have been closed.
I have seen eager children arrive at Neasden Library, only to turn home crestfallen when they realised it was closed for good. Without internet access at home they were dependent on that library to use a computer for their homework.
Libraries are important for book borrowing, homework and a social space but most importantly are 'local' - where older children can visit independently, families drop in and elderly people access with ease.
Labour realised belatedly that t the closures were a mistake and this led to a change of leadership and recent attempts to recover lost ground. However the damage has been done and a 'fresh start' cannot make up for that. We believe in publicly funded, properly staffed, local libraries and will fightfor the restoration of local library provision.
Greens care about the quality of life and not just the quantity of goods. This is important not just in terms of libraries but in educational provision public spaces and housing where we intend to enhance everyone's quality of life rather than focus on acquisition of goods.
Greens have been consistent in their opposition to the library closures as can be seen from the videos we produced above and from this piece I wrote for 'Voices for the Library' back in January 2011 LINK:
I have been a member of a public library continuously since before I started school (in fact the old Kingsbury Library now replaced). When I move house joining the library is the first thing I do once the electricity and gas are connected and the furniture in. As one of a large family with parents unable to give me a lot of attention, the library was in a sense my home educator, and librarians actually quite important in encouraging me to widen my reading tastes. Without a library I think I would have not progressed much educationally.
Currently I see queues of young and older people outside the Town Hall Library, waiting for it to open, not all just to keep warm but somewhere they can advance their education. Library staff could probably tell you that young children use local libraries after school as a place to do their homework, but also an unofficial safe place to be picked up by their parents when they finish work.
A lot of the youngsters on the Chalkhill Estate use the library, encouraged by the school and by class visits, and there is also a high usage of the internet there, for learning but also for job seeking. This is essential if we are to tackle the gap between those who have access and those who do not. They are fortunate in being near a library not down for closure – although it will be less accessible when it is moved to the new Civic Centre.
However youngster who currently use Barham Park, Cricklewood, Neasden, Tokyngton, Kensal Rise and Preston libraries, all down for closure, will be less fortunate. The proposal for the remaining six libraries to be ‘community hubs’ with other council services located there does not replace the local accessibility of these small libraries.
Brent libraries are also the source of much cultural input including Black History Months events and other activities that bring a diverse community together including language and nationalist test classes. The Town Hall library is currently running a reading club for primary school children and others have homework clubs for children without access to books or computers at home. As the recession bites this will become even more important.
As Greens local libraries are important to because we believe in easily accessible community resources which do not involve car trips. A local library is a place where children of 10 and over can easily walk to on their own rather than rely on lifts from parents – this encourages one area of independence in a period where children are more and more dependent on adults with few opportunities for independent activity.
Libraries even save paper, and therefore trees, through multiple lending of one book rather than individual purchases of many books – and the authors get a steady source of income, albeit it small, from public lending rights.
Brent Green Party spokesperson on Children and Families and school governor