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We Own It: Bristol Central Library 2013

In October we will know whether two floors of Bristol Central Library, which house one of the largest art collections in Britain, have been rented out to a Free School (1).

Bristol reference library holds periodicals, newspaper collections and music. The public can walk in, ask for whatever they need, read it, or photocopy it, in the tranquil reference area. This collection, invaluable for social research, is being subjected to the same criteria as the lending library section. Stock which is rarely asked for will be weeded out, removed, sold, pulped. What is left will be stored elsewhere which will, of course, cost money.

The future of Bristol Central Library is a blatant example that the spending cuts are not about deficits but about rolling back the welfare state.(2) The Cathedral Primary School (CPS) will open in September in temporary accommodation with £3.8 m in capital funding from the government and hopes to move into the library as soon as an agreement is reached.

£3.8 m could have saved Bristol City Council youth centres, day centres and Old People’s Homes which have been closed in the past year. £3.8 m shows that the proposed 420 specially selected pupils are far more important than providing public services to Bristol residents.

This is not the first attack on the Central Library. A few years ago there was a plan to move it to the central shopping area. Opposition by the library staff and the local paper halted that. Both Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors have welcomed the decision with a Conservative councillors ‘Retain Bristol Library’ e-petition, closing date 11 October 13, and the letters page of the Bristol Post newspaper being the only opposition.

Inspired by We Own It, Green Party Councillors Telford and Radice agreed to meet on Monday 5 August at midday outside the Central Library to confirm our support for the central library. We were joined by Voices of the Library. Others used chunky chalks to write out the words We Own It in front of the entrance to Bristol Central Library.

In her blog, Councillor Daniella Radice wrote, “Whilst I was working in the rail industry a colleague recommended an old book, "Red for Danger" by LTC Rolt. It was out of print, but gave an invaluable insight into the history of railway signalling. I was able to quickly and easily, get hold of a copy of this book to read, without paying any charges”.

There are opportunities to raise the issue – Bristol Open Doors Day on Saturday 14 September and the four hundredth celebration in December. Bristol Corporation set up one of the first free public libraries in the country in 1713.

However, unless we challenge the ‘Austerity’ myth the attacks on civil society will continue. Ken Loach ‘Spirit of ‘45’ made the case for the Welfare State. Writers such as Alan Gibbons, Jeanette Winterson, Steve Tisane and Philip Pullman have all spoken out in favour of libraries.

In his speech at Oxfordshire Anti Cuts Alliance Public Meeting in on 20 January 2011, writer Philip Pullman rejected the Leader of the Council’s invitation to say where to make cuts saying :- “It’s not our job to cut services. It’s his job to protect them.”

We Own It gives us a voice. Email to save Bristol Central Library.
August 2013

1) Bristol Post ( August 16 to 18, 2013)
2) Professor Ha-Joon Chang, Guardian 9 March 2013.
Troy Town Library video (US) is inspirational.

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