In my last post I copied a press release issued by the Sheffield based group Library Workers for a Brighter Future. They had invited the poet Ian McMillan to an event at Hillsborough library as part of Save our Libraries day. It appears that Sheffield City Council banned this event because it was "political"- but since when have Local Authorities had the right to stop their citizens being "political"? In any case, this event was about democratic engagement and public libraries have to be central to that.
Sheffield City Council, like many other councils, is suggesting cuts to the library service budget along with cuts to other council services, because the Government has reduced its grant. The democratically elected members on the Council will have to consider these proposed cuts and make a decision. That is how it should be. But does this mean that the Council has the right to supress any dissent, let alone discussion of this decision? There is a debate about public libraries taking place on the Sheffield Forum web site. Many people are very supportive of libraries but others say they must take their share of the cuts. That is what political debate is all about. The Council however wants to put a stop to debate.
The Leader of the Council, Paul Scriven, is well known locally for featuring in a music video promotion for Mercure Hotel. It might have been nice instead if he could have produced a music video promoting Sheffield Libraries with his refain of "You just keep me coming back". (When you have seen the video you might think it's a good idea that he didn't!). But why does he think it is right to promote a hotel and then stop the libraries promoting themselves?
The council probably thinks that it can get away with this sort of censorship because librarians and library users are quiet, timid people who won't make a fuss. We hope to show that they are wrong with our Shh4sheflib event on Saturday. I don't suppose they will be too keen on that either but so far they haven't said they are going to ban it. I hope that the people of Sheffield will turn out in force to demonstrate that we will not be told what we can do by the Council. We are promoting this event through social media sites and it might demonstrate to the Council - as with many oppresive governments worldwide - that you can't stop people with bans and censorship.
I will finish with a poem by the banned Ian McMillan
Before, when you got mail,
It was a chap in a cap with a sack packed full;
Before, when you researched
You sat and sweated in a library that was just this side of dull;
And when you booked your holidays
You stood there in a queue
Behind a family of five and a pensioner or two
And life seemed so much slower, somehow;
There was acres of last week and just half a glimpse of now;
Today you click
On a mouse
And you can shop till you drop without leaving the house
And now you send
Right across the globe and the photos of your dogs
Can appear on your site in the twinkling of an eye
And in a tick you get a picture back of Grandma saying Hi!
Framed against the backdrop of a California sky…
And it’s been fifteen years from before to this
And now we’re living in a universe of constant cyber bliss!
And like the first fire in the cave
Or the first turning of The Wheel
The internet is changing how we think and speak and feel
And in the next fifteen years the net will turn and twist again
And go down murky sidestreets far beyond this Barnsley brain
And one thing’s certain: the net is here forever,
Constant as taxes, unpredictable as weather…
And before I’m dragged right under in a growing tide of spam
I’ve time for just this one last post: I click therefore I am!
© Ian McMillan, for BBC R4 Today, 7.8.06