Dear Councillors Johnson, Souter, Hardware and Garnett
Libraries do so much more than lend books. In this digital age they are essential community hubs, especially for the most disadvantaged and excluded in our society.
Consider the services they provide for the least well off in our town – those who can’t afford broadband at home and who may have limited data on a smartphone, or no smartphone at all;
For job seekers who are increasingly expected to apply for jobs online, the loss of a library with free broadband, limits their opportunity to find work.
For Universal Credit claimants, who are required to complete forms online, the loss of access to Wifi via a library may result in sanctions and further hardship and suffering.
For children whose families do not have access to the internet there is the prospect of not getting preferred schools if their parents are not able to submit online forms to Essex County Council. Even school meals are ordered online – for some families, this could mean their children go hungry.
Some might argue that these are not “core functions” of our libraries and can be provided elsewhere, but in an age of continued austerity, where exactly is that? Schools have had their budgets cut and can’t provide internet access to parents. Bus services into the town centre have been privatised, making them infrequent and expensive, limiting the possibility of residents using computers at the Job Centre or the Town Centre library.
And in any case, how can we expect people to access the vital services they need by using the internet, and then not provide them with the means to access computers and broadband?
"For job seekers who are increasingly expected to apply for jobs online, the loss of a library with free broadband, limits their opportunity to find work." Mark Ingall, Labour Leader
And let’s not lose sight of book lending. Despite cuts in funding, local schools such as William Martin still take their students to the library to foster a love of reading. Parents of young children borrow books and well stocked libraries have been shown to boost literacy levels. We know that Summer Reading Challenges are participated in the length and breadth of the country and Harlow is no exception. How can we deny our young people these opportunities?
And as for our elderly residents, for many of them the library is a warm, safe place in which to spend time in the company of others, potentially ending hours of isolation. They can also be a place to learn new skills – how to use a computer, for example – and therefore maintain their rightful participation in society.
Yes, it is true that library usage is changing but research shows that the decline in usage is chiefly amongst affluent users. The decline in usage by the disadvantaged sections of our society is small in comparison.
So, I ask Harlow’s four Essex County Councillors three questions;
- Have you considered the wider impact of these cuts, particularly on the most vulnerable?
- What action have you personally taken to support library services in our town and across Essex and to drive an agenda of modernisation rather than closure?
- Will you vote against your party and help stop these cuts?
Leader of Harlow Council