Why all writers must play their part in the libraries battle

Crime writers owe a lot to libraries. They lend our books in return for PLR, they stage our events, including during National Crime Reading Month in May each year, and they raise our profiles.

So, I had no hesitation when I was asked by Martin Edwards to be the Crime Writers’ Association Libraries Champion in Scotland.

For me, like many writers, libraries have always been close to my heart. Indeed, my father was a librarian and my first summer job was in a library.

I am one of three CWA Libraries Champions who were last year appointed to take over from former Champion Ruth Dudley Edwards, the others being Cilla Masters based in England and Jan Newton in Wales.

Key elements of the role include linking libraries who want crime writers as speakers, or to feature in events, with authors in their area and encouraging libraries and their users to become part of the Crime Readers’ Association.

Since being appointed I have liaised with some of Scotland’s key library figures and spoken up on those occasions when councils have proposed largescale cutbacks to their library services. Another part of the Champion role is speaking out in support of libraries in a non-political way.

And such a role is needed. As one of the writers involved in setting up the CWA’s libraries initiative a number of years ago, I have watched with concern as the need for writers to speak up assumes ever greater importance. The reason? It seems to me that libraries are increasingly seen as an ‘easy target’ by politicians of all hues.

My own involvement in library campaigning included playing a part in opposing plans by my local council in North East England (we moved to South West Scotland at the end of 2017) to close one library, move a second into an unsuitable sports centre and scrap the mobile library.

Thankfully, that protracted campaign saw the two libraries saved in their existing locations amid a powerful outpouring of community anger, although the mobile library went. During the campaign, it was easy to feel that some politicians faced with austerity cuts viewed libraries as their go-to-target (my council had already closed the town’s arts centre despite a public protest campaign, in which I also played a part).

In Scotland, I have watched recently with satisfaction as several councils have rowed back from their plans to cut back on library services following similar protests from communities.

Maybe the message is getting through. Maybe some councils are realising that communities care about libraries and that volunteers may be excellent people but they cannot replace skilled professional librarians. Supplement, yes, replace, no.

And it is not just about books. Libraries perform an important social function, acting as part of the community.

One of the most important elements of the librarian’s role is education. Which is why I read with interest recently that CILIP, the UK professional association for librarians and information professionals, has responded to the final report of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee inquiry on Fake news and Disinformation by calling on the Government to recognise the vital role of librarians and information professionals in protecting the public from online harms.

CILIP CEO Nick Poole said: “CILIP welcomes the findings in the CMS Committee report that ‘children and adults need to be equipped with the necessary information and critical analysis to understand content on social media, to work out what is accurate and trustworthy, and what is not’ – what we call ‘information literacy’.

The organisation says that, as librarians and information professionals, its members know that education – equipping children and adults with the ability to think critically and act responsibly online – is the only long-term solution to managing the risks presented by the Internet while allowing people to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities.

I could not agree more – and perhaps politicians across the UK should consider the point when ploughing ahead with their short-sighted plans to close libraries.

And everyone can help convey the message that libraries are precious. At a time when public sector cutbacks threaten so many of them in the UK, writers need to do all they can to support and celebrate libraries.

This article appears by kind permission of the CWA, in whose magazine it first appeared

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