Libraries are just for the privileged white middle class... says white middle-class British Library chief
A quango chief has enraged campaigners fighting to stop the mass closure of public libraries by claiming they are the preserve of ‘the privileged, mainly white, middle class’.
Roy Clare, chief executive of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, suggested dozens of local protest groups were out of date, commenting: ‘Public libraries will not be preserved by wishful thinking and aspic.’
Almost 400 libraries nationwide are threatened with closure, and with half of councils yet to announce their plans the total could reach 800. In some counties more than half of all libraries are set to close, with rural areas worst hit by the spending cuts.
But this week in a controversial email to librarians, many of whom face losing their jobs, Mr Clare urged them to ‘nourish change and embrace development’. The MLA, which ‘promotes best practice’ in libraries, and Mr Clare’s £127,000 a year job are also being axed, but campaigners who fear communities will be badly damaged by the loss of so many libraries have reacted furiously to his comments.
Children’s author Alan Gibbons said the remarks were ‘a very cheap shot’. He said: ‘Around the country campaigners from all walks of life are out petitioning and protesting to defend their libraries. ‘Groups other than the “white middle class” are well-represented because libraries serve the whole community.’
Mr Gibbons said the planned closures were ‘wholly disproportionate, unnecessary and fail even to achieve the Government’s stated aim of saving substantial amounts of money’.
He added: ‘What’s more, some of the libraries targeted for closure have only recently been refurbished. ‘This is depressing in the extreme and utterly nonsensical.’
A spokesman for Voices For The Library campaign group, a head librarian who asked not to be named, said he was ‘shocked and disgusted’ by Mr Clare’s comments.
One library under threat is in Hesters Way, Cheltenham, a deprived area where a significant proportion of the population is unemployed or on minimum wages. It is a hub of the community and provides the only access many have to the internet.
Campaigner Johanna Anderson, an academic librarian at the University of Gloucestershire, said: ‘We have been overwhelmed by support from people of all backgrounds. ‘What Roy Clare is saying is complete and utter nonsense.’
The most savage cuts announced to date are in the Isle of Wight, which is set to lose nine of its 11 libraries.