A Broad Abroad: Libraries Unlimited
My monthly travel slot usually takes us to Russia, Africa or Latin America. Well, this month I’m moving just 60 miles from home, to the north Devon town of Barnstable, or more specifically to Barnstable Library for the official launch of Libraries Unlimited South West, the staff and community-owned social enterprise that has just taken over from Devon County Council the running of the 50 public libraries across the county.
On Saturday 23rd April, Julie Dent, Chair of Libraries Unlimited told an enthusiastic crowd of readers and authors that the organisation’s purpose was to keep the libraries of Devon open, run by professional staff. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person there who sympathised with her memory of gaining a love of books as a child through the doors of a library. Julie acknowledged there would be financial challenges, but they are determined to remain a vibrant part of the community. ‘We don’t need to save the libraries,’ she said, ‘we’ve done that. Now we need to make them what you want them to be!’
Children’s author, Claire Barker, brought back even more memories when she talked of ‘worshiping at the feet of the blessed St Blyton’. She described books as ‘portals into other worlds’ and reminded us that a public library was a valuable, free resource. ‘A public library doesn’t care what’s in your pocket; it’s what’s in your heart and mind that counts.’
As you would expect, CEO of Libraries Unlimited South West, Ciara Eastell, had the figures at her fingertips. In Devon, a county with more than 120,000 members, there were 2.8m library visits last year; Friends Groups are thriving in 43 of the 50 libraries. She sees the biggest challenge as showing people who don’t currently use the library what there is on offer. She called on all of us to spread the word as widely as we can. (Will do, Ciara.)
The event rounded off with cutting (and eating) of the magnificent cake and much talking, laughing and networking. Someone thanked me for making the trip from the south of the county. Hey, the sun was shining, there were books, there were other authors to chat to, there were readers to meet – and there was cake. Where else would I want to be?
Libraries Unlimited South West, I wish you well. The readers and writers of Devon are behind you all the way.