Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Attack of the Flying Authors - John Dougherty

I must have been mad. Gloriously, bonkersly, wonderfully mad. Whatever possessed me to suggest I mark Save Our Libraries Day by becoming a Flying Author?

Not literally flying, I hasten to add, despite the misleadingly Bigglesish publicity picture. No, the idea was that I dash around the county, doing quick 20-minute sessions at each of the libraries that are endangered by the, let's be frank, utterly irresponsible and ridiculously short-termist cuts proposed by Gloucestershire County Council.

Unfortunately, it's a big county. And there are a lot of endangered libraries. Under the present plans, 29 of the county's 38 libraries are likely to suffer huge reductions in service, with up to 17 of those likely to close altogether. Not to mention the mobile libraries, which soon no one will be able to mention except in the past tense. Yes, they're getting rid of the entire mobile library service.

Anyway, it soon became apparent that I wasn't going to be able to do more than 9 in a day. And that was without stopping for lunch.

Thank goodness, then, for Cindy Jefferies, who quickly donned her own metaphorical goggles and flight jacket to become Flying Author number two. The marvellous, hardworking and very lovely people at Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries began to get very excited - and it didn't end there. As the days rolled by, more authors, poets, illustrators and storytellers joined the squadron. Not all of them were technically Flying Authors - some stayed at a single library for a day; some could only give an hour or two of their time - but all of them helped to make it a huge success. They were, in no particular order:
  • Marcus Moore
  • the heroic Katie Fforde, who did several events despite having spent the previous night sleeping rough for charity in a public park!!!
  • Hannah Shaw
  • Sue Limb
  • Jamila Gavin
  • Alice Jolly
  • Shoo Rayner
  • Chloe of the Midnight Storytellers
  • Jane Bailey
  • Chris Manby
  • Philippa Roberts
  • Graham Mitchell
  • Vicky Bennett
  • Peter Wyton
  • Roger Drury
  • John Bassett of Spaniel In The Works Theatre Company
[and if I've missed anyone off this list, please email and tell me and I'll add you! Sorry if that's the case, but there were just SO MANY OF US!]
By the time Saturday 5th Feb came, we had something planned in EVERY SINGLE LIBRARY IN THE BOROUGH!

Well - except for the two that are closed on Saturdays. And the one in the prison.

But those aside, we had a right rollicking day of events to look forward to. You can see a fuller, but possibly still not quite complete, list of events (plus weblinks) here.

And what a day it was! Right from the first event - which began with a crowd outside the library, waiting for the doors to open at 9.30 - it was all systems go. Some libraries were buzzing, full of eager library users keen to make their voices heard; at others, I spoke to small but enthusiastic groups of children and parents. Librarians offered me tea and biscuits and even custard doughnuts, one twelve-year-old read me a laugh-out-loud-funny limerick she'd written herself (thanks, Jasmine!) while an eight-year-old told me how much she'd loved one of my books (thank you, Tamsin!). People listened, people laughed, people clapped and sang along, people gasped in horror when I told them that Gloucestershire County Council had banned the media from filming, photographing and recording the day's events in the libraries...

No, I could hardly believe that bit myself. Thankfully, the lovely reporter from NPR was happy to interview me in the car between libraries. But it does feel an awful lot like censorship. I emailed the council leader yesterday to ask the reason for the media ban. He replied that it was "to protect staff in particular" (that'll be the staff who've been threatened with cuts to their redundancy pay if they speak out over the closures, then) and "to avoid any unnecessary disruption to the library services" (which, obviously, won't be disrupted in the slightest by being dismembered in the way the council is proposing).

I got home in the early evening, exhilarated but exhausted, immensely grateful to my trusty flight crew and to everyone who'd made the day run so smoothly. But part of me couldn't help wondering - had it been worth it? Had my lightning tour of Gloucestershire really attracted any attention for the campaign to keep our libraries open?

And then I opened up my computer to find an email of encouragement from someone who'd read about it on the BBC website. She's a school librarian. In Rolling Meadows, Illinois.

Yes, it was worth it. I was just one little player in what Alan Gibbons called "a carnival of resistance"; but it was a carnival that made a heck of a noise.

It's not the end, though - not by a long way. Let's see what happens next.

John's website is at www.visitingauthor.com


catdownunder said...

With all the effort that is going in to "Save Libraries" there just has to be some positive result!
We are not facing closures here in Australia but we are facing cuts to services and that could be just as harmful, especially given our geography. Some people are still a very long way from a library - hundreds of kilometres in fact!

Ms. Yingling said...

You have certainly put in impressive efforts to save library service! I must admit that when I have visited the UK I was very surprised that the public libraries were not as well-stocked as the one in my community in Ohio. I hope that things improve in your community.

John Dougherty said...

Unfortunately, Ms Yingling, the library service here has been under slow, creeping attack for a long time - the job of librarian has been downgraded (in many library authorities, librarians no longer have the right to choose the books for their own libraries), and funding has been cut incrementally.

Thanks for your good wishes. I hope at some point we'll have the sense to elect a government that values libraries and funds them properly; in the meantime, our job is to make sure that when that time comes we have some libraries left, not to mention experienced librarians to run them!

Nicola Morgan said...

Well done, John - fabulous! x

michelle lovric said...

Yes it WAS worth it! congratulations!

Penny Dolan said...

Well done, all of you! I am very impressed, John & others, that you managed to organise the events and readings at all, as staff in my county can't get involved in protests.

Have been to one Protest, where I joined the crowd outside the small local library, and to one renewed Library Opening where I was interviewed by local paper for my thoughts on it's imminent closure.

Drove, not flew!

John Dougherty said...

Staff in Gloucestershire can't get involved in protest, either - or even, as I think I posted, voice an opinion that doesn't agree 100% with the party line.

However, library users can organise events. After all, they're our libraries!

Katherine Langrish said...

Fantastic effort, John - long live the libraries!