Thursday, 20 January 2011

Teflon Shoulderpad Politics, The Activism Bandwagon and Angry Birds: #libnews digest number 3

This week's stories have led me to think a bit about politics and the nature of our democracy. I think mostly because of the variety of approaches that councils are taking to do with the cuts. As mentioned before, consultations are pretty popular but what constitutes a consultation seems to vary from place to place. Suffolk, for example seems to have grabbed the concept of the Big Society by the horns by making all of it's libraries 'up for grabs' by community groups. I guess that's easier than trying to decide which places deserve a professional library service and which can make do with volunteers... Dorset have taken a different approach by just announcing 20 proposed closures. There seems to be very little consultation and, from what I hear, the cuts appear to have been decided on pretty much on issue stats - with little consideration of the needs of different areas. I'm sad to see Hampshire proposing cuts to their mobile service - with stops closer than 2 miles being axed. If you can walk 2 miles you can read... if not, tough. What's sad is that those who most need them will lose services. Service users will be surveyed apparently but there's little transparency about how the survey will take place. The main publicity for this consultation seems to be web based. Skewed sample anyone?

But I guess what I'm really getting at in this post is confusion. Who's job is it to decide these things? Has politics moved beyond a stage where we can elect officials to represent our interests? There seems to be conflict between different levels of politics, with some elected officials driving cuts whilst others join the protesters. Whilst some MP's defend libraries, so called Government quango's stick the knife in (although I should point out that there is some debate about Roy Clare's actual comments - the link's ironic - The Mail later pulled the story after legal threats). One of my biggest beef's is this disconnect between different levels of politics and I think it partly comes from a lack of strong leadership. Whilst Eric Pickles says that library closures should be a last resort Ed Vaizey seems very reluctant to take any action to stop councils from cutting libraries disproportionately. Some say 'impotent'. I'm a cynic and a Bolshy git at heart so I say 'wilfully negligent'. While Vaizey fiddles the cuts get made... call me paranoid but I think that's all part of the plan. What really annoys me though is when I see headlines asking citizens to come up with ideas to save the day. This is the age of teflon shoulderpad politics where our politicians shirk their responsibilities - if there have to be cuts (and I think that is a big if) I want the decisions on how they are made to be taken by people who are elected to make those decisions because they have some knowledge and skill in the matter - not whoever shouts loudest at a meeting. Yes consult - but there is a difference between consulting and washing your hands of the whole affair.

The Activism Bandwagon

It was a genuine joy to see the #savelibraries tag take over Twitter on Sunday. I think mostly a tag doesn't trend worldwide on Twitter just because of tweeting librarians. OK so Voices for the Library gave it a helping hand but it truly shows that people the world over care about libraries - and from some of the tweets it shows that ordinary folk 'get' what libraries do much more than some of the folks who should know better...

I did chuckle a bit when The Bookseller launched their campaign to save libraries. I guess the folks at Voices for the Library can take the old adage that plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. But the Bookseller campaign is so similar in it's styling that in this case I'd say plagiarism is the sincerest form of cynical marketing strategy. You have to wonder at the timing as well - the day after such a public display of affection for libraries on Twitter. Just hope it doesn't dilute VftL's efforts.

Finally, for anyone doubting the value libraries add to society - check this one out :-)

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