Today marks National Libraries Day, a day according to the website that is “a culmination of a week’s worth of celebrations in school, college, university, workplace and public libraries across the UK”. Yet in Manchester, a very real battle to save a library from closure is unfolding.
Originally opened in 1904 as one of the ‘Carnegie libraries’ through money gifted by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Manchester City Council is proposing the closure of Levenshulme library and the adjacent swimming baths to make way for a combined building housing both – which won’t open until 2015. Until then residents will have to make do with a ‘community book collection’ at best.
Levenshulme’s diverse community spanning many ethnicities and generations needs its local facilities. For many, the local library represents more than just books and free computer access. It is a meeting area, a collaborative space – a beating community. Levenshulme has quite rightly reacted with horror at the thought of this being taken away from them.
A peaceful sit-in demonstration occurred last night, as users of the library rallied around to save it. And they have very valid points – users young and old need the services provided. From computers to classes through to homework clubs and even something as basic as access to books are all vital for communities like Levenshulme, especially for those at the lower end of the income scale.
Yet Levenshulme is gifted by the number of authors, artists and young professionals living in the area, and willing and able to give their time to the local community. The closure of the library would stop that beating heart in its tracks. What I’ve written does not even consider the impact of both services on local children who would be denied access not just to books but swimming facilities within Levenshulme. With public transport prices rising across the region, those without access to a car may not be able to afford going elsewhere.
Of course, this is a microcosm of what has happened in Manchester city centre itself. The Central Library has been closed since 2010 for a historic refurbishment. During that time, residents have had access to a limited range of facilities and books at the replacement City Library on Deansgate.
The proposed closure is all part of Manchester City Council’s drive to cut costs. With cutbacks thought at £80m through to 2015, it’s not just Levenshulme library under threat. Burnage, Miles Platting, Fallowfield, Northenden and New Moston are going to be replaced with so-called ‘outreach’ libraries whilst public baths at Withington, Broadway, Miles Platting and Levenshulme are to close and be replaced with new facilities by 2015.
But Manchester City Council’s attitude towards libraries across and beyond the city has been abysmal over the last few years. Public anger has been mounting, from a formal letter of protest over the pulping of several hundred thousand books through to the leaflet informing Levenshulme residents of the consultation. The leaflet has a “deeply ironic” recommendation for those without a computer: “If you do not have access to the internet, you can obtain free access and find all the information you need at your local library.”
Of course, this is not a particularly Mancunian phenomenon. According to a briefing by the Carnegie trust into UK libraries, some 10% of libraries are under threat of closure, or have left council control in recent years. For example, Newcastle has 10 of its 18 libraries under threat of closure. There is a bigger fight on our hands to stop libraries becoming centralised buildings with limited reach and appeal.
In saddens me greatly that on a day of “celebration” for the humble library, Levenshulme residents are having to protest in order to save it. That just about says it all for the inefficiency or contempt that Manchester City Council has towards a vitally important cultural and community service. Somewhere off into the distance, poor Andrew Carnegie is turning in his grave at the thought.
You can join the Facebook group to show your support for the battle to save Levenshulme library here, or like Levenshulme library and baths here. You can also follow residents on Twitter @SaveLevyBaths