Hundreds gather in protest at library cuts in Cardiff
The Read In event staged at Cardiff Central Library had dozens of protesters out in force against the cuts to library services.
A 12-year-old girl from Llanelli was the star speaker as hundreds of campaigners gathered outside Cardiff Central Library in protest at proposed cuts to library services across the capital.
Phoebe Howard was applauded when she read out an emotive love letter she had written to her local library. She told the crowd, which included protestors who had travelled to the capital from across Wales: “When I go to the library on Saturday it is the best sort of Saturday. A Saturday that I love. “I go to the place I love. I see the things I love. I can go and get lost in books. I can leave the troubles of my life and I can enter a world that is full of imagination.”
Latest protest against cuts
The Read-In event was held to coincide with National Libraries Day with hundreds of those present of all ages reading out loud from books they had brought with them. Organised by Cardiff Unison and the Cardiff People’s Assembly, it is the latest protest against Cardiff council plans to cut funding from seven libraries in the city. Campaigners claim the libraries proposal, which would save the council £283,000, could lead to the closure of Rumney, Rhiwbina, Cathays, Roath, Whitchurch, Rhydypennau and Radyr libraries.
Those who made addresses to the crowd included leading figures from the world of literature – among them the first National Poet of Wales Gwyneth Lewis, crime novelist Belinda Bauer, former head of Academi/Literaure Wales Peter Finch, children’s author Jackie Morris, playwright Greg Cullen, novelist Francesca Rhydderch and poet and musician Labi Siffre.
'Visits to the library taught me to read'
Morris told the crowd that until the age of nine she couldn’t read and it was only constant visits to the library that taught her. “I used to go to the library every Saturday and a librarian taught me about books. My parents didn’t know,” she said. “You walk into a library, it’s a room full of books, where do you start when you’re nine-years-old? You start with the librarian and they guide you through. “I’ve paid a lot of tax and I’m happy for my tax to go into libraries and librarians, training these people who have been made redundant as libraries are closing and volunteers are being brought in. “I would like to know what politician would like to have a volunteer surgeon operating on them, or a volunteer dentist pulling out their teeth.” Former National Poet Of Wales, Lewis added: “I was able to write because I was a regular visitor to the Cardiff Central Library as well as libraries in Whitchurch and Gabalfa. “It was John Milton who said if you kill a man you kill a human, if you kill a book you kill reason itself.”
In an impassioned speech Real Cardiff author Finch said the libraries belonged not to councils but to people. “Somehow the weasel words that are being used in this are that the library subsidy is being withdrawn. As if somehow or other the libraries are an entity that exist on their own and that they don’t belong to us. That the money that the council gives them is given out of a generosity, out of its own heart as some kind of subsidy. Supporters of Cardiff Libraries gather outside Cardiff Central Library to protest over planned cutbacks in the service “It’s completely the wrong word. These are services that we own. They are our services and if we want them we join together like this and we make sure that we keep them. “We have to do everything that we can to insist that Cardiff Central Library and branch libraries stay with us.”
Poets back the campaign
Messages from National Poet Of Wales Gillian Clarke and award-winning playwright Owen Sheers were also relayed to the crowd. Clarke told how her trip to the library was the highlight of her weekend: “I would not have become a poet without a public library. No parent then or now could afford to buy enough books to satisfy a bookworm. For me the library visit was the highlight of Saturday mornings. National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke was on the judging panel “I would have never have become a poet without those books, those bedtime stories, those nursery rhymes. Good luck with the campaign to save all of Cardiff’s libraries and the libraries across the UK. Happy reading.” Sheers said how he was travelling abroad when he received the news of proposed cuts: “I was travelling in the wilds of Mexico when I heard about the proposed library cuts. I immediately set out on a trek to find a town that had internet access so I could write a letter of protest to the council. “To lose our libraries is to take a backward step. It is a retreat from all the social and intellectual progress that has been fought for so hard over the last century. “We need to love our libraries, not lose them. Grow them, not cut them. We need to leave our children with a vibrant legacy of public places of thought and reading. In the grand scale of things libraries are not expensive, but they are precious, too precious to lose.”
City could be turned into a 'cultural wasteland'
One of the protestors present was Grant Jones, 23, from Cardiff who admitted he hadn’t taken much notice of proposed council budget cuts previously, but “had woken up to what is at stake”. “I wanted to come down to see how many people actually care about how we’re being represented in Cardiff and if we think that the decisions that are being made by the people in charge are the decisions we really want.” This week the campaign to save Cardiff’s libraries made public a letter written by Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield to Cardiff council accusing them of wanting to turn its central library into a shopping complex and of turning the city into a “cultural wasteland.” James Dean Bradfield in a strongly worded statement to senior councillors, including the council’s leader Phil Bale, Bradfield told them “the dream is dead or under threat”. The Blackwood band opened Cardiff’s Central Library in 2009 which Bradfield described as “an immensely proud moment”. He also described how he and his own family enjoy using the library and his fears that it could instead be turned into a “retail opportunity.”
The statement read: “When Nick, Sean and I opened the Cardiff Central Library in 2009, it was an immensely proud moment for us. “It felt like a seamless journey from Blackwood Central to Cardiff Central. As Blackwood had been a place to meet, discover and read, so became Cardiff Central library and I continue to use the service with my family. “But now it seems that the dream is dead or under threat. Odds on that Cardiff council will eventually cut a deal to transfer the library into the hands of a luxury retail opportunity. The rumble of an oncoming cultural wasteland as sponsored by Cardiff City Council.”
Council defends its plans
Michael Sweetman, Cardiff council’s Unison area organiser, confirmed the statement came from the singer following requests from campaigners to various high profile people in the arts community to garner support against the library cuts. Sweetman said the singer had sent the statement to council leader Phil Bale, deputy leader Sue Lent and cabinet member Peter Bradbury whose portfolio includes responsibility for libraries, Mr Bradbury denied that there is any intention to transform Central Library into such a development. He said: “A formal response has been given to this letter. Within my reply, I once again reinforced the message that there is no intention to transfer ownership of the library into retail hands. “In fact our proposal for Cardiff Central Library is to create a flagship super hub that will offer a number of council services under one roof, which includes library services. “The Hub approach within Central Library represents an effective and sustainable way of bringing together the excellent services already offered with partner advice services that will maximise the positive outcomes that we always aim to achieve for the population of Cardiff. “The City Council remains very proud that our landmark library was officially opened by The Manic Street Preachers.”
from David Jones,Wales on line