I am sat writing in my local Arts Centre. You needn’t remind me of the great privilege it is to have somewhere so brilliant to write, meet friends for tea or take part in the many activities available here. I know I am lucky. But it seems that soon, my luck might run out.
Tonight Darlington sits under a fog of uncertainty. Our Civic Theatre, this very building and even our beloved Crown Street library are all under the threat of closure. Making cuts to these three specific areas suggests that if something ceases to turn a profit then it becomes worthless by default and so the real estate itself becomes the business.
Britain is pushing closer towards this idea. We have students in the worst possible sense, customers not scholars. In the midst of battered economic times, last year saw the final arts icon removed from our tender. Goodbye Mr Elgar and your marvellous moustache. A sure sign of things to come. No arts on the money and no money in the arts.
So why is it so important to keep these places open? Well according to silver-spooned Daniel Knowles from The Telegraph...it isn’t. These buildings are “more full of Philip Pullmans than they are of single mothers” - an argument he attempts to use to support closures. Of course, he is referring to Pullman’s recent speech which I intend to flyer out this Saturday in support of the national Save Our Libraries protests. Read it and weep, here.
Pullman, pictured here, encapsulates so much of what people on the street are saying about proposed closures and cuts. Anything wholesome with the potential to create good for those without is being taken from us brick by brick. The idea that cosy intellectuals alone use libraries is absurd on an obvious level. But even if it were true then why would someone like Knowles not champion the cause of the library and encourage us to make books and learning even more accessible? Why is the only option to close the door?
Something is clearly amiss in this time of austerity. Let’s face it, there are a fair few folks out there who like the idea of art just for artists, poetry just for poets and laugh in the face of equal opportunities in which the more disadvantaged in society might develop a strong education. Free and democratic access to information supports ceiling breaking on many levels. It is easy to close the door of a library to the public when you have a steady collection of books at home.
Statistics that Knowles draws from are taken from library books checked out. Not books thumbed through, not pages photocopied, not internet pages accessed. Certainly not counted are those delicate moments of community. The children from opposite sides of town reading together, the mobile library delivering a novel to a bed bound patron, the homeless folks who warm up in winter with a newspaper.
And what of the archives? Precious records give us a glimpse into who we were and remind us of who we are now. What will happen to them? What will these buildings become? I dread to think. If I am honest in my words here, the idea of Knowles-types alone having access to literature and culture sickens me. An all too familiar kind of sick feeling that smacks of the smoggy Victorian Britain we worked so hard to break free from.
Yes, David Cameron, taught education is still free to all. Well done for ticking that box on the human rights bill. Do you want a pat on the back? You don't deserve one. Learning with independence and hunger, like I did, turning the smooth pages of Guernica or the much-thumbed The Waste Land - the choice to develop beyond our basic taught education - is given to us by libraries. And so much more.
Knowledge is power and it is our right to have this access. Libraries provide it in such a generous and welcoming way. It pains me to think that one day, they will be no more. That day will come soon unless you visit your library this Saturday. Use it or lose it. Show your support.
The author in Darlington library.