The Right To Read

“Do not do this. You won’t win. You’ll be financially liable, and it’ll cost you a lot of money.”

But we did it anyway. And won. We started as many, and then we were two. In the final hurdles we grew to eight, on the final lap to victory. Eight from a possible 6000 is no mean feat ... eight from just the two of us, often seemed impossible. 

In 2016, our local Council took the decision to close the library in our village to save money. The only free resource available for some 6000 people in the community. The Community Council initially fought the decision to close the library and brought in enthusiastic, passionate members of the community to help. We were two of them. We were all of them, really. And it went well. We gathered signatures on petitions, online and “in real life”. We wrote editorial and press releases for the local papers. We brought the community together, from babies to seniors. We made, and waved, placards. We brought a Yeti across the border! We used our collective voice. And because I was involved, we made a music video with the band I was singing with at the time - The Scottish Pink Floyd. It’s on YouTube and it’s called “Leave Our Books Alone” - a parody of “Another Brick in the Wall”. We begged donations, and signed books and auction items, and hosted a fundraiser. The people of our community raised in excess of £1000 to save their library from closure. 

Politics, local and regional, is a complex playing field. Personally I couldn’t even master the rules of Rounders so I was on the backfoot from the start. What I learned is that it’s a dirty business. There is a lot of back-scratching that happens and it’s all perfectly legal and above board. That doesn’t mean that it’s right. My cohort and I became privy to “plans” afoot. Basically we were confided in, and expected to be grateful and go along with it. There was to be something of a takeover bid. A deal whereby an application was made to take the library off the Council’s hands and turn it into a “Community Hub”. We thought about it, and talked about it between the two of us, at length. The bottom line was that it didn’t sit well with either of us. We researched extensively, and spoke to campaigners across the UK. We swithered and dithered but essentially we knew that what was being proposed was not sustainable, nor a suitable community-focussed response to this budget-cutting exercise. We approached our elders and betters in their office-bearing positions of authority and they ... well, they didn’t agree. They had plans of their own and we were getting in the way of that. We lost friends. We were sniggered at and made to feel like the most ridiculous women in the world. Yet still we fought. 

Contrary to popular belief, we didn’t fight for ourselves, or to get one over on anybody else, or even to prove that we could win - because we were certain, at points, that we wouldn’t. The principle of the thing was the driving force, and what kept us going in the face of adversity we could never have imagined. We were doing what, to us, was RIGHT. Libraries are not, should not, be the preserve of those who can choose to use them. They are necessary. Libraries are safe havens for children afraid to go home after school. A wee sit down and a read at the papers that a shirt-and-tie retired gentleman cannot afford to fund for himself. Access to the internet for free; computers, where you can do homework and research. And job search. Do you know what it’s like to claim unemployment benefit now? The hoops through which you must jump for the privilege of a weekly pittance? We fought for all of this, and more. We fought for our children to have the right, and ability, to access free books and learning on their doorstep. Not two expensive bus rides away. 

I realise that this all sounds very valiant. It wasn’t. It was emotionally, mentally and physically draining. We were (ironically) ostracised by the community we loved. Our partners, and our children, were angry. We weren’t there for them during months of researching legalese. Our children feasted on chicken nuggets for half a year. And they were dragged along to official meetings because we had no other option. They were given some crisps and juice and warned to play nice and to BE QUIET. By us, their mothers. Because we knew that those times would pass - but we had to see it out. We wanted to show our children that you must FIGHT for what you believe in - whether you are directly affected or not. Both of us could afford to buy books for our kids. We fought for the people who couldn’t. So that maybe, one day, our own children would forget the frozen food diet and absent Mummy and remember the one who stuck her neck out and dug her heels in and said, “NO! Enough. No more.” 

And stick our necks out we did. We sought legal advice. And the powers that be didn’t like that one bit, and tried to intimidate us into giving up. Two Advocates took up our case, free of charge, because they knew we could win it. In the end it didn’t go to Court because the Council capitulated. They “saved the library”. One could argue this was a “good move” in advance of local elections. The reality is that WE saved the library. The big boys lost and two wee middle-aged Mammies won. We did it again a year later and we will do it every year until the people we pay to serve us realise that our community has the right to influence decisions which affect us. Every child. Every woman. Every man. 

library, community rebellion, defiance