The Essex March for Libraries, protesting against what campaigners call a ‘closure plan by stealth’, came to an end at Chelmsford’s County Hall on Saturday. Hundreds took part in the eight day event, marching between libraries the protesters claim are under threat from Essex County Council’s (ECC) plans for volunteer run libraries.
The relay march began at Manningtree Library the previous Saturday, and took a route that included Brightlingsea, Wivenhoe, Prettygate, Stanway, Tiptree, Coggeshall, Silver End, and Hatfield Peverel libraries. On the very final day they began at Broomfield Library, then met up with campaigners from across Essex before the final march on the ECC HQ from the county town’s High Street. This included meeting feeder marches from Hullbridge to Hockley to Rochford libraries, and another also ending in Rochford from Great Wakering Library, who then took the train onto Chelmsford. The total distance marched by campaigners was around seventy-five miles.
At County Hall the protesters heard several speeches. Twelve year old SOLE supporter Josefine Bäckman Julif said to the crowd:-
‘I’m so happy to see so many of you library lovers here. I’m here today because I think libraries are so important. Books and education go hand in hand. Libraries are not just for borrowing books. Did you know that twelve percent of all eleven to eighteen year olds have no internet at home?’
SOLE’s Liz Miles told the rally:-
‘This week’s march for libraries has been historic, a remarkable week for public libraries in Essex. Despite these difficult times library users from across the county have come together to say no to Essex County Council’s strategy. No to the strategy to cast off our local libraries into the hands of volunteers and other groups.’
‘This is closure by stealth, no matter how kind and enthusiastic volunteers are – and their assistance in public libraries is important – they cannot be expected to run professional, essential, libraries. If any group takes over one of our libraries the council will eventually remove all funds, books, remove computers, and immediately remove all professional staff and sell off the library building. How can volunteers guarantee a lasting library service? They can’t!’