Protecting our libraries has been an important part of Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition campaigning in Bristol. 7 libraries are set to be closed in a cut put forward by the independent mayor and his cross-party cabinet. Scandalously this closure programme has been fronted by the Green Party assistant mayor. Despite their avowed opposition to cuts they are at the sharp end of implementing Tory austerity. Saving our libraries and other services requires principled and consistent opposition to the cuts, in actions, not just words.
Local people will fight to save their libraries and we will stand with them. In many cases these are the only resource that communities have left. They are used by people across the generations and provide far more than just books. Below is an eyewitness account of one library user's experiences and how vital the service was to him.
"In September last year I found myself evicted and unemployed, while I never had to sleep on the streets not having a place of your own still comes with its problems. Due to my low mood and feeling of helplessness I started to drink, a lot. I thought there was no way out and even one day called 999 to tell them that "a friend" was considering taking his life. Of course the friend was me and the ambulance crew came and did their duty, but that is a different story.
"After hitting rock bottom I thought that I had to do something, and do something fast. While I do have friends in Bristol I am from Belfast so I have no immediate family here. And my friends were not in position to do much other than the occasional night on the sofa.
"Being homeless and without a internet capable phone I went to the local Bedminster library. In my first session there I found a homeless charity, St Mungos, who I registered with and was able to get a free meal once a day. They also helped me with the council as in getting on the homeless register. So that was one meal a day sorted out and at least a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
"On the job front, I was able to use the library to search all of the main job sites, alter my CV and scan legal documents when required. Again, the light at the end of the tunnel got a little brighter.
"While all of this seems logical and something that you would expect, there is another less tangible way the library helped me. It gave me something to do, I was living in a squat with no amenities or facilities, literally sleeping on the floor in an empty room. So each day when I woke up I knew that I could go to either Bedminster library for one hour internet or the central library for two hours. Add to this that I was now attending interviews and able to go to St Mungos, this gave me some structure and hope.
"As of writing this today, I am in a job that I like, I viewed a property last night, again, found on the internet using the library, and it looks like I will be moving in next week.
"I have learnt a lot in the past months, about taking responsibility for yourself, about support there is out there for you and how important something that people take for granted, a local library, can be a life saver.
"I think the proposed cuts to the libraries are a disgrace and will put further pressure on people that rely on them, not just for books and education but for other services that people tend to forget about."