Marcus Moore – Researching, soul searching and being besmirched

Researching, soul searching and being besmirched

“Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirch’d” Henry V

It’s been a tough old week.

Before setting off to celebrate libraries on Saturday 5th February, I emailed a few county councillors, asking how many hours a week they’d be working as volunteers at a local library. Seemed a reasonable request to make of those who support plans to replace professionals with unpaid enthusiasts: practising what one preaches, and all that.

I visited six libraries as a ‘flying author’. I met children who groaned at my terrible puns; elderly folk who pop in once a week; a migrant worker emailing his family; a bloke trying to improve his reading; people looking at newspapers, browsing, photocopying, returning books, borrowing books, asking library staff for assistance finding books.

It’s a haven, the library. There’s nobody bullying you into buying anything, nobody hollering into a mobile phone, nobody skateboarding between your legs. They’ve been around for years, these gentle chambers where greybeard reference sections nod knowingly at toddlers rummaging for Gruffalos. Like parks with solid benches, colourful playgrounds, and twisting paths through rhododendrons.

But I digress.

The awkwardness started when I arrived home to an aggressive email from a councillor who considered my enquiry ‘frivolous’ and requested that I do not respond to his, er… challenging observations.

Ouch. That hurt. Insult to injury stuff.

I did respond, of course. And proceeded to email all the other (majority party) county councillors. Seventeen of the forty have replied and one has knocked on my door to introduce himself. I was delighted when a councillor offered four hours a week, though he was later unwilling or unable to tell me if he could drive.

For, you see, I’d suddenly had this vision of retaining one of the mobile libraries to serve those communities about to lose library premises. Ten libraries, five days in a week makes half a day in each district; maybe a jingly tune on a crackling loudspeaker, like a lollipop van; borrow one, get one free; Book to Basics, it’d be called; all very jolly, with smiling councillors greeting lenders in all weathers and urban parking bays.

I got a bit carried away, to be honest. Saw myself as a crusader, embarrassing elected representatives into putting their shoulders to the wheel. But it was never really going to happen. Besides, as more emails trickled in, it became clear I’d have to convince them driving the mobile library once a week throughout the year was actually feasible, considering all the other voluntary work they already undertake.

Don’t get me wrong on this point. The councillor’s stipend is small and many don’t claim their permitted travel expenses. They too are public servants, doing difficult jobs. Answering irritating queries from an egotistical mischief-maker cannot, therefore, be the best use of their time.

Which led to the soul searching.

Was my circular email justified? How much unpaid time would I be prepared to offer? I can’t even drive. Should I expect people to undertake a mission for which they may have no passion? And how much does it cost to maintain, insure, house, stock and run a mobile library? Do drivers need HGV licenses? Would all volunteers have to be CRB checked? Many hours passed in internet research.

By Thursday I am losing heart. I’m sent a letter detailing the organisational headaches in a popular museum staffed by volunteers. Google can’t tell me whether public libraries were closed during the war. The email I sent the council on Monday about mobiles and driving licenses has still not been answered. I’m unable to attend consultation meetings about the libraries because, as a non-driver (on ethical grounds), I cannot get home by public transport.

Those wishing to run libraries have, I gather, to submit a viable business plan, within the next few months. Perhaps I should ask the grandmother who likes historical fiction, the Polish fruit-picker and some teenage Harry Potter fans to draw one up together. They will enjoy discovering that finance is the root of all that counts these days.

With my integrity questioned and seeing the gaiety and golden opportunities of the library treated with scant regard, I end the week feeling thoroughly besmirched.

But I am also angry, seething with questions I would like elected representatives to address seriously and not simply dismiss as ‘frivolous’.

Why is the public’s overwhelming rejection of the proposals being ignored? Why are experienced and valuable staff being treated with such disrespect? Why has there been not the slightest murmur of protest from county councillors concerning the reduction in local authorities’ revenue from central government? And why, oh why, is this noble country of ours allowing itself to be held to ransom by those greedy few who enjoy gambling with our money?

It’s been a tough old week.

I am very tired and shall climb into bed. With a library book. While I still can.

Marcus at the Mobile Library

Marcus Moore is a Gloucestershire-based writer and performance poet, and was an ambassador for the BBC’s ‘RAW’ adult literacy project.

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24 Responses to Marcus Moore – Researching, soul searching and being besmirched

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Marcus Moore – Researching, soul searching and being besmirched | Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries -- Topsy.com

  2. Gary Green says:

    Marcus.
    This is a very honest post. It must be disheartening for you, but all I can say is, I think you are doing the right thing fighting for your libraries. Even though I’m not involved in the Gloucestershire campaign I have been following it since the start and it is a great example of people standing up for something that is valuable to their local communities (who pay their taxes to receive these services), that those in power have shown they don’t care at all about… Services and the people they represent. This is shown by their responses to your question about whether they would be volunteering and in general, the way some councillors and others in broader government roles have shown a lack of interest.
    I particularly liked your point about volunteers putting together a business case… Maybe you could get some of the toddlers at ryhme time sessions to crayon something that makes more sense than the current council proposals.
    Gary (Voices for the Library)

  3. jd64 says:

    Marcus, I am in awe of you. Thank you for this.

    John

  4. Katie says:

    Marcus,

    I am in awe too. Thank you. Also,…rather than using Google you could have asked the fantastic reference library team in Gloucestershire to find out if libraries closed during the war – hope they help next time! Available via phone and email http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/libraries/ask

  5. pauline thomas says:

    Hi Marcus, remember me?? Loved your piece and would like to be more useful to the campaign. All those years as a school librarian must be useful for something!

    Pauline

  6. Ami says:

    Marcus…you are a legend!
    Your question ‘And why, oh why, is this noble country of ours allowing itself to be held to ransom by those greedy few who enjoy gambling with our money?’
    could be asked about most of this governments current dictations…oh sorry…. proposals….turns out they aint listening to us minions.
    Keep fighting my literary anarchist friend Ami xxx

  7. Disappointingly the county council did not see fit to send any councillors who have direct involvement with libraries and the two officers who attended were also not from the library service and were able to do little more than give a prepared statement. .The Friends of Arbury Court Library are holding a meeting at 7pm on February 2nd in the Arbury Community Centre on Campkin Road to formalise the group and come up with ideas to support it and the other libraries threatened by the Conservative County Council.

  8. Spoz says:

    Nice one Marcus! Beautifully put. Your well measured, self control is ace … I would have been swearing my head off by the end of “it’s been a tough old week” ! As Ami points out “And why, oh why, is this noble country of ours allowing itself to be held to ransom by those greedy few who enjoy gambling with our money?” We’re not just talking libraries … it’s enough to drive someone to something “radical”, possibly involving a fire extinguisher. We should be taking a leaf out of Egypt’s book!

  9. Mab Jones says:

    Inspiring stuff! We should all *cough* take a leaf from your book… 😉

  10. Very eloquently, and restrainedly (is that a word?) stated , Marcus.

    Nice one!

    Is it not by now blindingly obvious that we are not living in a democracy, and are fooling ourselves if ever we thought that we were?

    We can continue to write letters to our “representatives” until were blue in the finger, do you think they really give a flying f**k what any of us mere subjects think, unless of course it’s evident that they’ll be out of a job?

    It is of course the “fat cats” in business who pull all the strings in government.

    So even if the majority of MPs were for example to vote against cuts to public services, do you believe it would make the slightest bit of difference?

    I have my severe reservations.

    You ask, why the public’s overwhelming rejection of the proposals being ignored and why, is this noble country of ours allowing itself to be held to ransom by those greedy few who enjoy gambling with our money?

    Do we have very short memories?

    Remember the war on Iraq, which happened with the sanction of the “Labour” government.

    Labour, or Tory, you still get the same old nonsense under capitalism…

    I’m looking forward to the time, when we can all awake from our apathetic media slumber and truly revolt, and replace it with a system based on mutual cooperation, and a recognition of our common humanity. Dare I say the word “love”?

    But then fighting global capitalism with love isn’t an easy, or perhaps realistic prospect when it’s been transmuted into fear, anger, rage, (or perhaps most damaging of all : apathy).

    Maybe we should all take a leaf out of Ghandi’s book (so to speak) and refuse to cooperate with anyone/thing that threaten our liberties, or our capacity to show love?

    Or maybe we should do as they’re doing in Egypt, only with a vision of what exactly we’re going to replace this ill-begotten system with.

    Since, judging by history we haven’t had much success so far, and I for one fear that the people of Egypt won’t get very much of a say in what replaces Mubarak; certainly not if the World Bank, and the rich countries of the world have any influence on the situation, which of course they will ultimately have.

    Or, maybe I should just resign myself to a cynical outlook, and give up on hope?

    Matt

  11. Jane Bailey says:

    Marcus, you have beautifully articulated what so many of us want to say.

    Strange, isn’t it, that what this government keeps on saying is that if they don’t get the deficit down urgently, then the country will go to the dogs. However, with all their drastic cuts on public services and the irreparable damage these have caused, what is the inevitable result? The country is rapidly going to the dogs.

    It is also strange that there is so much fear of borrowing money to tide us over difficult times. After all, what is the same government telling our sixth form students who are concerned about crippling university fees?: it isn’t a debt, but an investment in the future.

  12. Kath says:

    I totally agree with your sentiments, Marcus! Well done for all the hard work.

    Our book group (that meets monthly) regularly gets most of its chosen books from the library, providing they are more than a year old. The librarian can access 6 books for us by searching all Glos libraries, then we can collect them from Stroud. It’s a fantastic service. What a waste of paper & money if we had to buy new books each month!

    I, for one, would be more than happy to pay another 5p on my rates to keep our libraries. ……. but, as we pay a bigger whack than most counties for policing our local Royals, perhaps we should suggest some of that money could diverted into saving our libraries? Or am I being a little naive here??
    Kath

  13. Liz Hillary says:

    Your post made me cry. I don’t know what to do about my local library in Stonehouse, Glos – we have a great mix of people here and for some, the library is their only access to the internet – so that they can look for jobs, do homework etc. Do I fight the cuts or offer to be involved in a voluntary service to keep things going? Perhaps both. I can’t fully express how cruel it would be to close the library here but ‘kicking someone whilst they are down’ are words that spring to mind. We are the 6th richest nation in the world and we can’t afford a decent library service – what does that tell you about our priorities? Let’s ditch trident, pull our brave service personnel out of Afghanistan and tax the rich at a fair rate along with corporations. Let’s build a fairer society we can all be happy (and well-read) in – the rich and the not-so-rich. All the best, Liz

  14. Hi Marcus, as one of the other flying authors I totally share your feelings. I am appalled at how fast a civilised culture can be demolished. Our protest was, to all intents and purposes a waste of time as the decisions were made before we even had time to organise a protest. (This doesn’t mean that I felt we shouldn’t protest, of course. Perhaps we should be out on the streets protesting every day?) The suggestion that volunteers could run libraries is a real insult to library staff who are highly trained. I am appalled but not surprised by your stories about the reactions you got. Once closed it will be impossibly expensive to reopen libraries. If I can do anything else please let me know – though I also can’t drive (and have disabilities.) All power to your arm!

  15. Helen Wood says:

    I would expect nothing less from you, Marcus, than a heartfelt plea for reason and culture, and, sadly, am not surprised that a councillor thinks this is frivolous. We, in Cornwall, also have a Conservative led unitary authority who is cutting with glee – our Leisure Centre is the first service we’re fighting to save. Our libraries’ future is being considered, but no public notice yet of them being closed. I think your practical suggestion of the mobile library is good, but there’s nothing like having a community hub all week. I’d like to see all libraries remain open, with extended opening hours courtesy of librarian-monitored volunteers. Good luck to you all.

  16. Tessa says:

    Marcus you are so right, but sadly I too feel there is nothing we can do.
    Our elected representatives of whatever political persuasion inevitably forget they are there to reflect our views and do what they want regardless. Protest is being criminalised and the police used as an extension of the government. Lots of people are now afraid to protest.
    There is always money for wars, but sadly not for those things that improve the quality of ordinary peoples lives.
    Keep up the good fight for your libraries, once they’ve gone, like Beeching and the railways there’s no way back.

  17. katday98 says:

    Yuk, I have seen something out there reminding me of my pet hates, seedless grapes, wine with screw on top and vegetarian cheeses, great mighty yuk, again. A very intriguing piece of writing. I have just remembered that for a few years, I lived in a so-called third world country, if you could still use such term because of political correctness we should call it a developing country. However, as that particular one has always been considered a very ‘good’ third world country because compared to the rest of them you would not get mugged, raped and tortured at the police station and there is no army, now war, etc they did not mind to be called that. They used to have a delightful public library packed with books, obviously, that’s what the libraries are all about; lots of reading rooms, you can even take your student in and run a short quiet tutorial, nobody would mind. That library got permanently closed for refurbishment, well, for at least a couple of years. I never saw it open again. It was in the nineties. They may have opened it again after all that but I do not have an account of that. I mentioned nineties, when digital technology was in its nappies still and there were no e-books, probably no Amazon yet. Since it was a third world county, I never heard any voices of indignation or perhaps there were but got hushed up. Don’t you ever dare to trust the “Free Media” either there of elsewhere for that matter with the exception of very few decent ones. So it being a third world country it got totally and utterly mounted upon and trampled under big feet. So, what’s going on here? Not having libraries means having to pay for every single book one would want to read. There again, you see, the b******* want to make education exclusive for those who can pay. Remember, the Internet can also get manipulated and one still pays for broadband. I personally, dislike that particular digital media reading gadget which does not allow me to read the full width of the written text. Apparently, I am not the only one; I am talking about kindle books and such. That is because for those cultures who write from left to right and top to bottom, for the sake of their perception of the written contents it is important to complete the thought one way, i.e. left to right. Now, after this, if one has to press the down arrow button and cut the train of thought to go down extra few lines of writing it is not that disrupting. However, apparently, it is vital that the initial perception of the contents, i.e. from left to right does not get disrupted. That effectively, means that any digital media that has narrower screen than the ones allowing to read the complete width of the page in one go (printed in legible font, Times New Roman 12, for instance), appear to be much harder work for us not allowing good perception of the written text. There are other studies as well on the connection between one’s brain and the touch a person has with the printed material, browsing through the pages of books, etc, as well as writing by hand and typing. However, I cannot comment on that as I, personally, type straight away when I write, these days. I cannot get on with half cut sentences on my right when I am reading, though. Please, look up anything under this as a psychological proof that reading printed books or at least reading the text of larger screen is vital proper experience. If you need any other type of support, please, let me know, I can at least tweet or write something on Face Book, not that anybody hears what I am writing but still. Given the time and distance, I am near Reading Berkshire, I may not be able to volunteer at your local library but still, let me know, please, if I can be of any help, will be glad to do something about it. Well, it’s old news that status quo would want to attack the intellectual capacity of general public in order to ease the way into brainwashing it. Well, I don’t think we should allow that to happen, do you?

  18. Peter Tickner says:

    Marcus, libraries were open during the war. I used the one near to my home in South London. It was where I gained my love of the written word and the works of, among others, Richmal Crompton. It remained open even when damaged in the blitz. Sadly, I found that it had closed some years ago and flats now occupy the site.
    Libraries were considered a necessity then, a front line service to be maintained no matter that the cost of waging the war far outweighed our debt today. Meanwhile, they were burning books in Germany and look what happened there.
    More power to your elbow, Marcus.

  19. claire erasmus says:

    Come the revolution…well said Marcus….I wonder how many Tory ministers regularly use these cherished public services? Our schools,libraries…forests… what a legacy…time for direct action..your post moved me to tears and has prompted me to rally support for these beloved institutions.

  20. Eugenie Summerfield says:

    Marcus – don’t be downhearted. You are not a lone voice. You have spoken most eloquently on behalf of us, the authors, the library users and of those less articulate, and/or isolated in our community, who are about to be deprived of their rights to the wonderful worlds of learning through reading and of the opportunity for social interaction for the young and the elderly in our community. Decisions have been callously taken without adequate consultation and we must make sure our challenge on this score is made known by lobbying the GCC outside Shire Hall, Gloucester at 9.0a.m. on Wednesday l6th February before they hold what will in all likelihood be yet another of their ‘rubber’stamping’ meetings at 10.0a.m. I hope to be there!

  21. Roger Drury says:

    Roger Drury says:
    February 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm
    How do we make our words make some sense, to link us and to share and pass on the passion to oppose?

    I completely echo Marcus and all the others who have contributed to this collection.

    Here in the Forest of Dean we have been a bit pre-occupied with other challenges from this spiteful vandalism of our quality of life, streaming down upon us from the centre of power.
    They want to steal the very earth beneath our feet and the books, the words which inspire and feed us the knowledge to change things and question the world.

    Literacy is a human right, in the same way that the land is a common treasury.

    It is clear a single signature, a letter, a protest, a song, a chant, or even an egg alone will not shift their intentions to destroy in the name of greed…

    In the way of learning we must work together, suggest ‘our proposals’, be confident, creative….
    and, desperate as it may seem, use the coming elections to register how democracy is supposed to operate….but day by day never give in.

    – in another poor example of consultation here in the Forest of Dean our MP locked out 300 people from a public meeting he had called with 24 hours notice, they stayed in the rain chanting Hands off Our Forest (substitute from multiple choice answers- Libraries, Day Centres,Youth Clubs, Health Service, Arts, Buses etc) for 2 hours, then he scuttles off under police escort. (they also chanted ‘Tunisia’, ‘Cairo’ ‘Forest of Dean’)

    60 villages will lose the mobile service in the Forest of Dean, communities struggle to wrap the blanket a little closer, while this government, and their poodles, takes, takes, takes with such hollow policy and shameful ambition.

    lets build on these exchanges. RWD

  22. Lachlan says:

    I completely empathise with the warm feelings towards libraries. My strongest childhood memory is of watching a new library being built in a small village in the north of Scotland. When it opened it was stocked with new books and I remember the smell vividly as well as the excitement of having so much to read. Hardly knew where to start.

    Somehow, switching on this laptop isn’t the same.

  23. Marcus Moore says:

    I wish to thank everyone for their kind comments and continuing support of the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries’ campaign.

    It is very disheartening when our elected representatives refuse to heed our concerns, but choose to respond with discourteous behaviour and arrogant assumptions.

    I warmly applaud those running this campaign. You have not only won the argument, but also won the hearts of countless Gloucestershire folk in your endeavours to save an invaluable public service.

    Best wishes,

    Marcus

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