Essex County Council have announced that a third of their libraries could close by 2024. Twenty five out of the 74 libraries across the county could shut with a further 18 being run by volunteers. See here for the full story: Essex library closures: 25 out of 74 set to go.
The county council claim that these mooted closures are down to a decline in the number of physical books being borrowed although they concede that demand for the online services available in libraries has trebled in the last five years. Their ‘reasoning’ appears to be that if there’s an increase in demand for online services, rather than go to a physical library, people can access them from home on their smartphones or laptops.
Has it not occurred to Essex County Council that the reason why a growing number of people are using libraries to access online services is because they cannot afford a smartphone, a laptop or to pay for an internet connection? Have the county council not heard of the digital divide? Are they not aware that shutting libraries in areas such as Fryerns and Vange, both of which have above average levels of deprivation, will cast those in poverty into a non-digital wilderness? Do they not realise that a job seeker relying on the online services available in a library such as Vange will be struggling if they can’t access those services? Are they not aware that a job seeker losing access to the digital services they need to find a job will be harshly penalised by the unsympathetic bastards working at the JobCentre?
Not only that, libraries out on the estates also have a social function. They’re places where the lonely can come to find activities and company to engage them. For an elderly widow or widower, their local branch library provides valuable human contact. Libraries play a vital role in reducing social isolation. Tragically, that’s something you can’t put a price on which is why it’s ignored by the bean counters when they’re deciding which library is for the chop.
At the end of the day, in an age of seemingly never ending austerity, this is what we get – the closure, downgrading and ‘re-configuration’ of services that play a vital role in our communities. The fat has long gone – county and local councils are now cutting away at the muscle and sinew and soon, they’ll have to resort to hacking away at the bone. Ignore the corporate bullshit language that’s used to justify and sugar coat these cuts – the truth is they’re an assault on our communities. We offer our unconditional solidarity to any groups that will be fighting these closures.