Monday, 7 March 2011

A reply from the PM

'Letters from Friends' by D. Sharon Pruitt on Flickr

At Prime Minister's Question Time on 9th Feb, David Cameron answered a question from Ed Miliband by saying:
We all know a truth about libraries, which is that those which will succeed are those that wake up to the world of new technology, the internet and everything else, and investment goes in. That is what needs to happen. Should councils look at community solutions for other libraries? I believe that they should. Instead of sniping and jumping on every bandwagon, the right hon. Gentleman should get behind the big society.
(Hansard, 9 Feb. 2011, around Column 293)

I thought this was a pretty silly thing to have said, and so I wrote to him to say so (the Contact Number 10 webpage suggests that a posted letter is more likely to receive a response than an email).  I listed a few of the ways in which public libraries have been embracing technological changes - reforming the way they operate, educating their readers, making the internet available to all - and even suggested that I'd be happy to show Mr Cameron one of my local libraries so that he could see what's already going on.

Today I had a reply from the Prime Minister's office. Needless to say, my offer of a library tour has not been accepted.  In fact, given the response, it's hard to determine whether my letter was actually read at all:
From the Direct Communications Unit

I am writing on behalf of the Prime Minister to thank you for your letter of 11 February.

Mr Cameron appreciates all the feedback he receives, so it is good of you to have taken the time and trouble to get in touch and to let him have your thoughts.

Once again, thank you for writing to the Prime Minister.
I suppose that this is the nature of campaigning about something.  Most of the time, efforts look like they might be in vain - it's easy to feel like you're shouting into a gale, and that no-one will hear what you're saying.  When out on the street on Save Libraries Day (5th Feb) I got to thinking more or less the same thing: 'how many people can I possibly be influencing?' 

But equally, when out on the street I did have conversations with a good few people who really were interested to know what was under threat and how they could help.  And all the others who scurried by trying to ignore us will still probably have heard the word 'library' a few times; if drip-drip marketing is good enough for commercial products, then it's good enough for my library campaigning.  At the very least, people have been reminded of the existence of libraries, and Mr Cameron (or someone on his staff, at least) has been shown that there's one more person who's watching what he says and does.

I know that some other library folk also wrote to the PM around that time.  Has anyone else heard anything back?


  1. I emailed my county councillor about my branch library and never got the courtesy of a reply.

  2. I'm in Hertfordshire where no branches are closing but opening hours are being quite severely restricted. I wrote to my county councillor, MP and Euro MP Richard Howitt - the last on the basis that he had at least publicly condemned the restrictions via his Twitter feed.

    I got a sensible and considered reply from the county councillor justifying the council's policy but (much to my relief) demonstrating that the council at least still believes in the value of its library service.

    All I got from my MP was a standard acknowledgement - but what else would you expect from Peter Lilley? Richard Howitt didn't even bother with that.

    I've decided that the future lies in exploring the idea of forming a local friends' group and am looking into that now.

    And I wholeheartedly agree with you that all Cameron's disingenuous, ill-informed statement does is demonstrate his profound ignorance of and lack of interest in libraries and the work that they do.