The library at Stony Stratford, on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, looks like the aftermath of a crime, its shell-shocked staff presiding over an expanse of emptied shelves. Only a few days ago they held 16,000 volumes.
Now, after a campaign on Facebook, there are none. Every library user was urged to pick their full entitlement of 15 books, take them away and keep them for a week. The idea was to empty the shelves by closing time on Saturday: in fact with 24 hours to go, the last sad bundle of self-help and practical mechanics books was stamped out. Robert Gifford, chair of Stony Stratford town council, planned to collect his books when he got home from work in London, but left it too late.
The empty shelves, as the library users want to demonstrate, represent the gaping void in their community if Milton Keynes council gets its way. Stony Stratford, an ancient Buckinghamshire market town famous only for its claim that the two pubs, the Cock and the Bull, are the origin of the phrase “a cock and bull story”, was one of the communities incorporated in the new town in 1967. The Liberal Democrat council, made a unitary authority in 1997, now faces budget cuts of £25m and is consulting on closing at least two of 10 outlying branch libraries.
Stony Stratford council got wind in December and wrote to all 6,000 residents – not entirely disinterestedly, as the council meets in the library, like many other groups in the town. “In theory the closure is only out for consultation,” Gifford said, “but if we sit back it will be too late. One man stopped me in the street and said, ‘The library is the one place where you find five-year-olds and 90-year-olds together, and it’s where young people learn to be proper citizens’. It’s crazy even to consider closing it.”
Beancounters never think of the support such services provide to the future of a community. I’ve written a number of times of the value and direction provided to my life by weekly visits to our neighborhood Carnegie Library. It was a regular part of Saturday recreation for my mother and sister and me.
Learning became recreation.
Milton Keynes Council should support libraries and independent learning – not work at spoiling the process for others.