By Ben Jones
A group of Welsh authors, publishers and library campaigners are calling on Cardiff Council to drop all proposed library cuts and invest more in existing city library services. As part of its current budget consultation, Cardiff Council is canvassing residents on proposals to cut opening hours of hubs and libraries across the city, including closing them for an additional day a week and are using more unpaid volunteers to fill roles previously occupied by paid professional library staff. Campaigners warn that today’s library cuts could be tomorrow’s library closures.
Adam Johannes of Cardiff People’s Assembly said: ”Cardiff Council proposals to slash library opening times and recruit more unpaid volunteers is a classic technique. Opening hours are cut, the service is run down, use falls as residents find their local library is not open when they want and does not have what they want, this is then used as an excuse to close libraries.”
Cardiff People’s Assembly is a city-wide campaign against austerity, cuts and privatisation behind the mass read-in protest outside Cardiff Central Library attended by hundreds in 2015, against council proposals to close seven libraries. Three days after the protest, the council U-turned on the proposals. The campaign also intends to organise protests against library cuts later this year.
Peter Finch, a writer and chief executive of Literature Wales, called upon the proposed council plans to be ‘vigorously resisted’: “When I hear the word culture I don’t reach for my gun – instead I head down to the library. Where else can you consume culture, information, and warmth at no charge and in bulk?
“Libraries, free libraries, have been local centres ever since provision began more than one hundred and seventy years ago.
They’re a democratic human right. Any attempt by those who are charged with library provision – local councils – to restrict, amend or reduce access needs to be vigorously resisted.”
More than a thousand UK libraries have closed in the UK since Tory leadership began in 2010. Despite this, the most recent
figure for 2018/19, shows that almost 91,000 Cardiff residents, around a quarter of the city’s population, had borrowed an item from a city library.
Peter Finch added: “If libraries are invested in, not cut, they remain one of most used, most loved, most popular public services. As families struggle to heat their homes due to rising living costs, libraries across the UK are becoming “warm banks” for people who need somewhere to keep warm. Some even provide hot drinks, free clothes, soup, hygiene products and free sanitary products that can be handed out discreetly to combat period poverty.”
Dr Gemma June Howell, an editor at Honno Welsh Women’s Press said: “Libraries are not only a vital lifeline for many, but access to books and knowledge is a fundamental human right and a socio-economic necessity. Wales is a literary country that prides itself on its rich and diverse culture and preserving this for future generations should be of paramount importance. Diluting and limiting a public service which serves so many people struggling in Wales’ capital, will have detrimental repercussions on a country that seeks to be representative and inclusive.”
In a statement, Cardiff Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, Performance and Modernisation, Councillor Chris Weaver, said: “Just as every household budget across Wales has been impacted by the cost-of-living crisis so too has every service the council provides. It means that everything we do, every service we offer now costs significantly more to deliver.
“There’s no doubt the better-than-expected 9% increase in funding from Welsh Government is good news. We were looking at a £53m hole in our budget, but thanks to Welsh Government making more money available this has now reduced to £23.5m. But this is still a huge amount of money to find, especially after cutting around a quarter of a billion from our budget over the past ten years.”