The demo had been organised by just two library users – Ruth and Judith. These women had written a short leaflet and started emailing it and texting it around their friends. In no time, the Facebook groups against the cuts had further circulated it – resulting in 100 people protesting with their own banners.
The consultation period ends soon. It is a false consultation. The authorities have set out their plan – to close 15 libraries. Notable at the various demos have been city councilllors and a few MLA’s from all the sectarian parties. Whilst these individuals say they don’t want libraries to close – particularly libraries in their areas – these parties are voting through these closures. They say ”It’s sad …but there’s no alternative”. These are crocodile tears.
The NI Library Authority says library use is falling. But this is not clear cut. The latest figures – perhaps reflecting the recession – show borrowing is increasing. Also, libraries have been run down and underfunded for years. Some buildings have become decrepit which doesn’t encourage people to visit them. Also funds for buying new books have been cut to a pittance and for many years no new books were bought. If people can’t get, for example, the latest John Grisham, they won’t come back. If buildings were properly maintained and more new stock was bought, libraries would still be, and indeed are vital centres for their communities.
But there is an alternative. Local communities can fight back and defend their libraries by uniting across Belfast and demanding that no libraries close. Funding to libraries and all public services should not be cut. It should be increased. Libraries should be thriving community centres with free borrowing and computer access for all. We say keep the libraries open. Re-open the libraries already closed in other areas of Northern Ireland. Everyone should have the right to a local library.