Tony Black: Don't let them take our libraries without a fight

EDINBURGH is a city with a fabulous literary reputation. A Unesco city of literature, no less.

Monday, 28th November 2016, 7:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 11:44 am
Without books and libraries, where will our storytellers of the future discover the love of the printed word? Picture: Ian Georgeson

Here we can boast responsibility for some of the world’s truly great writers. From Robert Louis Stevenson right through to Irvine Welsh it’s an inclusive array of talent few other cities can match. But all that is under threat.

Without books, and the places we find them, where will our storytellers of the future discover the love of the printed word?

I know where I found it – the library.

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Tony Black says he would never have become a writer without libraries. Picture: Ian Rutherford

We didn’t have books at home when I was growing up; we just weren’t that type of household. It was a practical working-class environment. Reading was something that occurred elsewhere.

The library, from a tender age, was where I went to discover the mysterious world of books and without it I’d never have become a writer.

I worry about the future for storytellers. In 2016 it seems our fastest growth area in the United Kingdom is in food banks. Our book banks –the libraries – are becoming an afterthought. When the masses can’t feed themselves, so goes the logic, any other hunger they might have, for knowledge or even simple entertainment, gets pushed aside. And so our libraries have become easy targets for cuts.

Such cuts are not only an unnecessary and savage assault on one of the most basic tenets of our democracy – the right to an education – they are designed to deprive the voting public of the very means to assess just how their situation might be being manipulated for ideological or political means. Put bluntly: keep the public stupid because if you give them the means to educate themselves about the world around them they might get a bit restless. There is no need to close libraries. Austerity is a ruse. Does anyone really believe our economic woes were caused by too many immigrants signing on rather than a reckless banking class playing roulette with our fortunes?

Tony Black says he would never have become a writer without libraries. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Shutting down vital services and clawing back hard-won benefits is an ideological decision. Every economist of note I have listened to confirms the idiocy of the austerity ideology; we should be spending more, not less, to stimulate our flagging economy.

If you doubt that we can afford to keep our libraries, perhaps you’ve listened to all the rhetoric about the UK being broke, then ask yourself where the money for illegal wars and invasions of foreign countries comes from? Likewise, from which top hat have we pulled the £31 billion budget to renew our weapons of mass destruction? The Queen’s new £370 million repair bill? Westminster’s £5.7bn refurbishment? Hikes to MP’s salaries and perks?

Let’s get real. We are a rich nation, we only need to make the right choices where we spend our wealth.

As a voter, my priorities are not to keep an over-privileged Westminster elite in trips to The Ivy or to buy more missiles to better target people on foreign shores I’ve no quarrel with.

I’d much sooner see my income tax used to create a better, fairer society. To allow young mums to take their toddlers to learn nursery rhymes at library groups. To have a warm place for the elderly to read the paper or learn computer skills. To have the internet services open to the unemployed or the homeless looking for a leg-up. And for our writers to learn about their craft so they can enrich the lives of those who love to read and learn. We have a choice about what kind of society we are and will become. It’s down to us to decide where we spend our wealth and how we make those choices shouldn’t be decided for us or forced upon us in the form of politicians’ lies.

We can keep the libraries we’ve benefited from for generations or we can watch them taken from us. If we let them go, though, be guaranteed you will never see them return and so much more than some old buildings will be lost to the city of Edinburgh, forever.

Tony Black is the author of 13 novels, including the recently released detective thriller Summoning the Dead