This guest post is written by Rev. Keith Hebden of Matson, Gloucester, who was one of the organisers of protests by Matson residents against the imminent closure of their public library:
Holy Week is a good time to reflect on how the campaign has been running to save Matson Library. This is because the image of a crucified library has become a powerful symbol of the way government – big and small – scapegoats and sacrifices public services while ignoring the wider political problems we all face.
On the evening 4 March 2011 nearly 70 Matson residents gathered outside Matson Library for a candlelit vigil. Books had been attached to a six-foot wooden cross and we sang together, “Were you there when they crucified our library?”.
Some gave testimony to its role in their life and in the community; former Matson librarians came forward to tell their story too. Another pointed out that powerful people have always executed the innocent – Jesus wasn’t the first and Matson library will not be the last. Young families, retired library users, and all ages and demographics between were present and able to speak truth to power – some were moved to tears.
Market forces ebb and flow and, like all violent gods they demand the occasional sacrifice. All the major political parties – priests to the market gods – say these sacrifices must be made.
But that evening was only the culmination of a series of public meetings, community-led consultations, and targeted campaigning. Meanwhile our MP, Richard Graham, had been rushing around trying to get a third sector group to agree to take on a public library. When ‘Together In Matson’ (TIM) expressed an interest in offering some replacement services for youth he publicly said that they had agreed to take on a public library: a statement, which he no doubt now regrets and that has been to the embarrassment of Conservative councillors.
Even Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) have given up pretending to the idea of a community-run library in Matson: realising that they have no successful models on which to base such aspirations. They are now suggesting Information Services for young people and maybe – maybe – some shelving and a drop-off point for books, also for young people, could be included at some point in the future.
TIM is presently consulting the local community on this. Whether TIM takes this up in the future or even looks to offer the service to the whole community is yet to be seen – certainly it would be a huge challenge and it does not detract for the need for a proper library in Matson.
All sorts of issues were not taken into account when GCC decided to axe Matson library – they claimed it was ill-used but forget that the accumulation of fines in Matson is going to have a far bigger impact on library usage then in the wealthier areas; they claim that we are 20 minutes drive from another library but forget that some neighbours can’t afford the bus let alone a car; they claim footfall is low but when the opening hours were randomly arranged to suit the needs of the council over the needs of Matson folk, knowing when it’s open takes some serious planning on the part of users. In other words – or rather in the words of Antonia Noble, they took, “no account of economic deprivation” and have long since abandoned listening to the real needs of library users.
Much of our hopes now lay with legal challenges being made but our greater hope is in the people of Matson who, whatever the outcome, have shown that they can organise, educate, and agitate for change and against the plotting of local and national government.
We need to continue to speak truth to power; it isn’t Easter Day yet.
Keith Hebden is a priest and curate at St Katharine’s Church Matson and, as a member of the Matson Forum, is involved in the campaign to save Matson library. Keith is an initial signatory of the Commonwealth document; a challenge from the churches to the Big Society agenda. http://commonwealthnetwork2010.blogspot.com/