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Standing room only at buoyant Oxford meeting to fight library closures

Location: UK » South East » OX
Standing room only at buoyant Oxford meeting to fight library closures

A public meeting at Oxford Town Hall on 20 January about proposals to close 20 of the county’s 43 libraries attracted well over 300 people with many more being turned away due to space restrictions.

The panel speakers were renowned book author Philip Pullman, Andrew Smith MP (Labour, Oxford East), Steve Squibbs (Unison libraries’ rep, Hampshire library service), and I, a local library campaigner working with the Oxford Save Our Services group. 

Headline speaker Philip Pullman forcefully made the case for the centrality of books and libraries to our imaginative, intellectual and social lives. He critiqued the ‘greedy ghost of market fundamentalism’ that is corroding our culture and public life, identifying the roots of the library crisis in a deeper neoliberal political and economic ideology.

Pullman also emphasised the function of libraries as depositories of a cultural heritage that those with the levers of political power dismantle at their peril: ‘they do not understand what it is they are destroying’. He spoke of the importance of libraries to his own development as a writer, and thus potentially to other children. 

Representatives from local library groups spoke in the open session of the meeting. Some of the libraries represented included Headington, Summertown, Bampton, Botley, Kennington and Woodcote. Several local campaign groups sent apologies and messages of support for the meeting. Other libraries at risk in Oxfordshire are Adderbury, Benson, Berinsfield, Blackbird Leys, Charlbury, Chinnor, Deddington, Grove, Littlemore, Neithrop, North Leigh, Old Marston, Sonning Common and Stonesfield.

Mary Hoffman, local author and veteran library campaigner also pledged her support and urged us not to get drawn into the county council’s invitation to suggest alternative cuts to public services.

Short shrift was made of what the county council and national government refer to as ‘Big Society solutions’. There was widespread support for a common position of campaigning to maintain libraries as a publicly run service.

The mood of the meeting was buoyant with other speakers from the floor from trade unions, councillors and members of the public concerned about the threat to public libraries. It is evident that public support is widespread and people are energised to take the campaign forward. The importance of working together in challenging the library closures and cuts to other public services was stressed.

There was discussion about follow up actions, both specifically about libraries and about opposing public sector cuts more generally.

The next initiative is in response to the Campaign for the Book‘s call for a national day of action, involving ‘read-ins’ in libraries on Saturday 5 February. Authors, librarians, councillors, trade unionists, students and families will be invited to speak and read excerpts from their favourite books. Read-ins are being organised in Oxfordshire with authors including Philip Pullman, Mary Hoffman and Julia Golding. They will take place in the Central library, Botley, Blackbird Leys, Littlemore and Bampton. Other local library campaigns and authors are encouraged to organise their own events.

The Oxfordshire Anti-Cuts Alliance, who were responsible for organising this meeting, is organising a series of lobbies and demonstrations, further details about which can be found on their website: http://www.oxfordshireanticutsalliance.org.uk

Stephanie Kitchen
Oxford Save our Services

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