Column: Jo Cox MP - “Our libraries are a lifeline.”

Jo Cox MP
Jo Cox MP

In the last few weeks and months, the public consultation on our local libraries drew to a close and its findings were published.

The process rumbles on.

Many people don’t realise just what a valuable lifeline libraries can be.

One person who does is the British writer Neil Gaiman.

He sees libraries and librarians as “frontline soldiers in the war against illiteracy and the lack of imagination” and the “thin red line between civilisation and barbarism.”

Heckmondwike Library was a regular destination for me as a kid on rainy Saturday mornings or after school.

Marvelling at rows upon rows of books and not to mention the librarian Florence Smith. Her enthusiasm and her knowledge.

But also her creativity and ideas – there was always something going on to draw parents and particularly children into the library.

Now, with my own children, I have spent countless hours in libraries – not to mention Sure Start Children’s Centres and can think of nothing better than snuggling up with a good book and two captivated little ones.

The Birstall actress Tracy Brabin is very clear that Batley Library was a lifeline for her and where she revised for her exams.

They are a lifeline for job hunters without their own computer, slimmers, walkers, discussers, knitters and natterers.

Batley and Spen is blessed with beautiful libraries.

Batley and Cleckheaton are magnificent.

Heckmondwike is what I measure all libraries by. And Birstall is a glorious, thriving community hub.

Where else would you find such a treasure trove of the pink spined Mills and Boons romance novels, which remain extremely popular?

And this year is the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland.

I was in Birstall library earlier this month – the decorations, activities – and a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – were awaiting any child who was curiouser and curiouser.

Our libraries are indeed on the frontline of providing that lifeline.

“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one,” says Gaiman.

I was approached in one library by a woman desperate that it remain open.

She’d been an avid reader but lost much of her sight.

As a result she stopped reading altogether.

She even lost the ability to hold a book in the right way.

It was the librarians who reignited her interest in reading, taught her how to read in spite of her sight issue and helped her learn how to hold a book.

Without the time and dedication and the compassion of a librarian she dreaded to think where she would now be.

I don’t envy Kirklees councillors the decisions and responsibilities the government have lumbered them with.

The Tories have been very clever in devolving their cuts to councils.

As well as the responsibility local councillors are also taking the blame. Quite wrongly.

I just hope something can be done to save our wonderful libraries before they vanish down a rabbit hole.