Threatened library gets its patrons to clear the shelves

The library in Stony Stratford near Milton Keynes, England, urged its patrons to check out every book on the shelves as a way of proving to the local council that its collection and facilities provide a vital service to the community. Stony Stratford is one of many towns across the UK that are facing severe library closures as the Tory-LibDem coalition government recklessly slashes its transfer payments to local governments (while breaking their promise to rein in enormous bonuses at the banks, even the ones that are owned by the taxpayer).
The empty shelves, as the library users want to demonstrate, represent the gaping void in their community if Milton Keynes council gets its way. Stony Stratford, an ancient Buckinghamshire market town famous only for its claim that the two pubs, the Cock and the Bull, are the origin of the phrase "a cock and bull story", was one of the communities incorporated in the new town in 1967. The Liberal Democrat council, made a unitary authority in 1997, now faces budget cuts of £25m and is consulting on closing at least two of 10 outlying branch libraries.

Stony Stratford council got wind in December and wrote to all 6,000 residents - not entirely disinterestedly, as the council meets in the library, like many other groups in the town. "In theory the closure is only out for consultation," Gifford said, "but if we sit back it will be too late. One man stopped me in the street and said, 'The library is the one place where you find five-year-olds and 90-year-olds together, and it's where young people learn to be proper citizens'. It's crazy even to consider closing it - they should be finding ways to expand its services and bring even more people in."

Library clears its shelves in protest at closure threat (Thanks, BannedLibrary, via Submitterator!)


  1. Money for guns, and bombs and war.
    Money for bribes and greasing the wheels.
    Money for sex, for status, for shame.

    And the books go upon the pyre.

    ~D. Walker

  2. Does Liberal Democrat mean something different there than here in the states? I’m rather shocked.

    Not that our dem’s have been all that spectacuklar either, but still this one caught me offguard

    1. Yes. What you call neoconservatism, Europe calls neoliberalism. Liberalism outside the US is closer to libertarianism. After all, our lefties are proud to call themselves socialists (even though most of them have shifted pretty far to the right over the past two decades)

  3. As Paul Krugman says, cutting costs during a downturn won’t help fix the problem (see Ireland), it just creates more uncertainty in the economy which leads to the downturn getting worse. So why is the UK government doing it? It’s because that’s the conservative philosophy: free market, and as little freebie to the “undeserving” poor as possible.

  4. The Nasty party’s world view doesn’t contain the idea of the “common good”, they believe in econocracy not democracy.

    They all worked in the private sector and will hope to go back there if things don’t work out where they are now, so hey positively won’t be taxing large multinationals or forcing the banks to recognise they need to change their ways.

    Bitch Thatcher (no lady in my book)is a good example. Worked as an industrial chemist whose main contribution to the furthering of the boundaries of science was to discover the elastic properties of icecream when pumped full of air, reducing ingredients per serving and multiplying profits exponentially. Hence why all mass produced icecream products will melt to a fifth or less of its frozen volume. The Conservatives venerate this sad grey woman who in medieval times would have been making wooden coins and/or dodgy weighing devices for market stalls.

  5. Well book sellers will be happy about colsing them.

    This is pissing me off! Those institutions are so important, how many hours did it spend looking through all the shelves in my youth reading through those precios books. Back then i did not have the money to buy them. Now i have it, but if i wouldn’t have learned so much from them… would the situation be the same?!

    Let the kids whacht tv… or f*** around on the streets..
    i seems they don’t have enought gangs there in GB.

    Jenniffer / runningshoesexpert

  6. “Oh, you’ve already cleared the shelves? Excellent. That’ll make selling the space all that much easier.”

    1. “Wow, you know, we could build some nice municipal offices here, and a couple of flats upstairs. It really looks so much bigger with all the books gone.”

  7. I hereby invoke Godwin’s law and liken library closures to book burning during the Nazi regime in Germany.

    There, now nobody else can do it.

  8. I used to live about 7 miles from Stony Stratford. It’s a funny place, being a really ancient little village which is now part of City of Milton Keynes (probably the most USA-like of any English city). Despite outward appearances of placid conformism, I remember MK citizens sometimes surprising me with outpourings of reactive fury when pushed too far. Good job, this one.

  9. it is pretty crazy, and pretty disappointing that the priorities are now skewed in favour of destroying public service rather than making it harder for corporations to dodge tax. It’s crazy that effort is being put into tearing down existing services while there is nothing to incentivise new enterprise. The Tories are the oseoclasts – where are the oseoblasts?

    Why do we tolerate banks? Who can name the head of RBS, or Lloyds, or Barclays, or UBS, Meryll Lynch, Santander, etc? The people managing the banks are all faceless identikits who could be and are replaced without any real impact on the organisations they head.

    The UK banks are giving away about 5% of the national defecit per annum as bonus pay to their staff.

    The £80M pension pot used to retire off the failed head of a now publicly owned bank in the UK – one man – would maintain the public services in Manchester for a year. We’re not ready to admit we’re at the point where we need to string some of the old generation up from lampposts in order to prevent them stealing the resources of the young, but, does it make sense to have one very rich retired banker, or a city of people with working services?

    If the government is somehow incapable of reigning in bonus pay, it must create rules that force it to be invested in socially productive ways, or taxed into oblivion. Adjust the rules so that ‘bonus’ pay can only be used to fund entreprenurial activities or donated to charity, or taxed. e.g. I would feel less outraged if the ‘bonus’ pay is used to start up new businesses or to fund libraries than to buy flats in Chelsea or Notting Hill.

    1. You appear to be missing the point of the bailout. The purpose of a subsidy is to produce more of the subsidized good. If the government didn’t want banks taking money from taxes and handing it out in large bonuses, the government wouldn’t have bailed out the banks.

  10. The only thing that may be giving me any bit of hope is that there still are citizens to comment such, ahem, “news” as parties whoring themselves for a bit of power.

    Thanks guys.

  11. If this were in the States, I’d question how much taxation and other subsidies have supported the local professional sports teams while the (relative) pennies to support the library were under attack.

    Cutting off public education in any form just because times are tough is like killing the chicken who gives you eggs every day just so you can have soup that one night.

    1. No. It’s like removing access to free learning opportunities for the poor and downtrodden. We can’t have them making educated decisions!

  12. Cool protest, but 10 libraries for 6,000 residents? Some consolidation might actually be in order there.

    1. No no, Milton Keynes has the 10 branches, not Stony Curtis.

      Milton Keynes population — 184,506

    2. Well the population statistics are off, but even if that was the case: what’s wrong with more/extra libraries?

      More locations mean that it’s easier to get to one, they can individually stock titles off the mainstream, employ more peopl, and so on.

      If governments can afford billions for salaries, wars, oil subsidies and so forth, they can use my money to build some goddamned libraries, too.

  13. Libraries are going through a major transformative period. When I was working on my library degree in the mid-90s, libraries were beginning to embrace digital and online content. Now they are fully committed to providing these and all sorts of other online services (on site Internet access, ebooks, digitization, etc.) At the same time, there is a strong demand from many librarians and library users to continue to provide books, print journals, public reading and meeting spaces, and all of the other services they traditionally have. This means substantially higher costs, yet all of this is taking place in the context of annual budget freezes or reductions coupled with large annual increases in the subscription prices of academic journals and an increased premium on physical space.

    The current situation is unsustainable. Libraries are spreading their resources too thin, and they occupy a lot of prime real estate that is hard to justify as storage space for books, many of which circulate rarely if ever. Libraries are going to have to make some decisions about which services they want to focus on, and they have to find an appropriate fit in the current marketplace. For example, the ability to readily buy old and fairly obscure titles (both new and used) from places like Amazon changes the value equation of libraries holding large collections of such materials, especially considering that it costs the library far more than the purchase price to buy, catalogue, process, manage and store a book which might ultimately receive little or no use. The old mentality of “collect everything possible, just in case” will not be sustainable in the future. (Acquisition budgets are already under intense pressure in a lot of libraries: book budgets are the easiest thing to cut when faced with a budget reduction or journal subscription fee increase.)

    1. Libraries are not trauma centers. They don’t all have to have the same inventory immediately. Books are passed around through inter-library loan. All it takes is one copy of a rare or unusual text somewhere in the system for it to be moderately-quickly available when needed.

  14. That is the point. Governments feel free to cut (or threaten to cut) services like libraries, police stations, firemen, etc while spending their money on other vanity projects. This is because they know that the populace will vote for tax increases to fill the gaps in essential services. If they fully funded such things when said the tax increases were to fund the banks/bailouts nobody would line up.

  15. ISTR that in the UK, where they don’t have a “first sale” law (17USC109 in the US) libraries have to pay a fee to the copyright holder every time a book is checked out. So a side effect of this would be to put a big hit on their budget.

  16. I think, more to the point, unlike the fire company and the police department, many people don’t see the library as an “essential service.”

  17. This is an excellent idea, a wormy arsed ghost of a local councilor in Oxford is closing 20 of the 41 libraries and claiming that the public should pay their rent and staff them instead.

  18. Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries. Ann Herbert

  19. Anon @ 21, the point is that, although obscure books might be readily available at Amazon or elsewhere online, not everyone can afford to purchase said books. Likewise, not everyone has Internet access and Kindles. Libraries have always been havens for the unusual, the rare, the unique as well as popular fiction, etc. and we need to keep that distinction. We need to stretch less money farther, but there comes a time when you have too much toast for the jam you have. Then, when the stacks have become little more than donated bestsellers, certain people feel justified in saying “How is this different than a bookstore?” and proposing something ‘better’ to spend public money on. At which point the whole community loses.

  20. Well, this is like trying to save Blockbuster video rental by giving out free rentals. It’s meaningless. The paradigm has shifted away from old, obsolete paper books that fill the shelves of libraries. Information, and even fiction changes too fast for a paper library to keep up. California libraries are also likely going away soon. It’s not because Mexican American kids don’t need a quiet, safe place to do their homework, but rather the expense of trained librarians is better spent elsewhere since a Google internet search is for all practical purposes good enough and faster. Libraries need to make basis changes or perish.

  21. essentially in the UK you have:

    Tories (conservatives): far right, though ordinary right in US terms, they pretend to be medium right in party manifestos but lurch heavily to the right in practice.

    New labour: right, though still pretending to be the old (leftwing) party Labour originally was, So any failures of new labour get blamed on the ‘left’ despite it now being a rightwing party

    Lib dems: claim to be a party to the left of new labour, since gaining coalition power, blindly support the tories on 99% of policies

    So IMHO, the 3 main parties pretend to be a spread of left to right whilst actually being all rightwing. The voting system massively discriminates against any party that isn’t the big 3.

    Rightwing is the problem so the voters have zero say in the matter as an actual leftwing (or even centre) party is not an option. We’re all screwed :(

  22. The lib dems have always had different policies in different areas when in local government, so national government was always going to be a problem. On principle which is worse, getting 4 out of 5 policies you believe in signed into law, or not taking part and getting none because of the missing 5th?

    Back to the article, I wouldn’t worry about the libraries. All book whores know that next door in wolverton is the age concern second hand book shop, best second hand books in the local area.

  23. Phead #37 – if you’re local you’ll know that the Age Concern charity book shop is only there temporarily because Tesco’s (UK equivalent of Wal-Mart) has bought all the land round there and will be knocking down that building in the next few months to build a new mega-store (it’s already driven local shops out of the small town of Wolverton). Age Concern is staffed by volunteers, and like all charity bookshops is a random mix of books.

    Stony Stratford library is staffed by professionals, and the books are free to borrow. Might not affect a little-Englander Tory like yourself, but the difference between free and buying second hand books is quite a difference if you’re on low income, and you know that Stony Stratford and Wolverton (the town 15 minutes walk from Stony) have their good share of low income families.

    Stony Stratford library has a good children’s section, it does story time, it does community events, it has the fantastic UK interlibrary loan service which means that a member of the public can order any book available in the UK, right up to university libraries and the British library, for 70p from their local corner library. I know this because I used to be a librarian working on interlibrary loans. As good as charity book shops are, you don’t get this from them.

    I am afraid this is all part of the Con-Dem government’s “Big Society” plan, which as far as I can work out means: we close public services, make the public employees unemployed, then we ask them to do their former jobs for free as volunteers now they’ve got a lot of time on their hands (except they can’t because if you do voluntary work while unemployed that means you’re unavailable for work and you’ll get your benefits cut as a result).

    Meanwhile the bankers award themselves bigger pay rises, and the government doesn’t chase down business leaders who avoid paying tax on their income (maybe because our financial minister, George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, avoids paying tax on some of his own earnings and keeps them offshore).

    Well they always said you’ve got to watch out when the librarians start to revolt…

  24. To those wondering about the Lib Dem council’s ideological bent, it’s not necessarily relevant. Councils have had their responsibilities increased and their budgets cut. They’re forced to make cuts somewhere, and will be opposed wherever they’re made.

    Of course, this is a result of the ideology of the Tory and Lib Dem national government.

  25. Libraries are over. They are a relic of an older age when people still believed in information sharing. The kind of information sharing that our society is progressively making more and more illegal even though, or maybe because, the sharing of information itself has never been easier. The vast public libraries will be transformed into small, networked caches of private illegal ebooks.

  26. Librarians do more for kids that “Google searches” alone can do – including teaching kids how to effective use Google. There is still a role for libraries if they are defined as a place – real or virtual – where community members can get access to texts and other media and professionals who can help them navigate the universe of available texts and other media.

    That does not mean that a library will always be a building filled with books.

    In 1994, I was one of the curmudgeons who complained that “Libraries need books not computers!” Now I’ve got a Kindle and a paperless office and prefer books only when I have a specific purpose for the physical object (e.g., I like to read historical books and biographies. Kindle doesn’t render photos well, and reading long works on a computer screen strains my eyes.)

Comments are closed.