The impact of community grassroots campaigns on public library closures in the UK

Mowbray, J., Hall, H. (2015, June). The impact of community grassroots campaigns on public library closures in the UK. Paper presented at Information: interactions and impact (i3) 2015, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland.


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Abstract

Presentation slides for this paper are available on SlideShare at http://www.slideshare.net/JohnMowbray/library-closures-presentation-1-49607273

This paper draws on the findings of a 2014 research project related to recent UK public library closures, both threatened and actual. It reports on grassroots community library campaigns that have recently proliferated across the country to fight the service cuts proposed by the local authorities that have been forced to operate within drastically reduced budgets.

From the perspective of grassroots activists, the paper explores:

(1) the motivations for individuals to join such campaigns;
(2) activities and tactics deployed in the campaigns;
(3) and the perceived impact of these campaigns, for example on the process towards library closures or decisions not to close.

Through an examination of two particular cases, the paper will also highlight local press reporting of library closure proposals, in terms of the extent of press coverage of threats to public libraries and the associated campaigns, and how key actors are portrayed.

The findings derive from an analysis of two sets of data collected in summer 2014. The first data set comprises online survey data collected from 68 library campaigners, drawn from 23 local authority areas across the UK wherein closures were proposed. The analysis of the quantitative data from the survey provides a macro-level insight into the profile of campaigners, and the extent of the activities undertaken by the groups. The analysis of responses to free text questions in the questionnaire enrich the understanding gained from the quantitative data.

The main findings from the survey reveal that, in general, the core members of local library campaigns are able to articulate with strong passion their reasons for working to save their public libraries. Campaigners undertake a wide range of activities in which advocating of the service focuses on promoting its diverse value and contemporary social-economic benefit, whilst remonstrating over the deleterious impact its loss will have on community confidence.

However, there is a lack of shared vision among campaigners on the question of volunteer-run libraries, with some being vehemently opposed, and others more inclined to accept their inevitability. The survey responses also indicate frustration amongst activists that the burden of responsibility for campaigning often falls on too few people, and that there is a lack of active involvement from the public at large.

The second data set comprises a collection of historical newspaper reports on threatened public library services in two English local authorities: (1) Newcastle-upon-Tyne and (2) Lincolnshire. A content analysis of 244 topic-relevant regional newspaper reports provided the basis of the two case studies, in order to reveal the extent and nature of coverage related to library closures in the local press. Findings from the analysis of the press reports show that, in these cases, local newspapers put proposed closures of their community libraries at the forefront of their agenda, with prolific and supportive coverage of both the services and the work of campaigners.

As well as the topic of the paper being of direct relevance to the i3 conference themes, delegates will welcome the opportunity to learn about the methodological approach deployed in the study, and the opportunity to consider its relevance for future research in this, and related, areas.

==Indicative bibliography==

Anstice, A. (2015). Latest: Numbers. (Public Libraries News), Available at: http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com/, [Accessed 19th January 2015].

Anstice, A. (2014). Lincolnshire Council loses judicial review on two grounds: all the chief points, links and analysis. (Public Libraries News), Available at: http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com/?s=fundamentally+flawed, [Accessed 19th January 2015].

Flood, A. (2012a). UK lost more than 200 libraries in 2012, The Guardian [Online], 10th December 2012, Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/dec/10/uk-lost-200-libraries-2012, [Accessed 19th January 2015].

Flyvberg, B. (2001). Making social science matter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Linley, R., & Usherwood, B. (1998). New measures for the new library: A social audit of public libraries. British Library. Research and Innovation Report, (89), Available at: http://www.shef.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.128118!/file/CPLIS---New-Measures-for-the-New-Library.pdf, [Accessed 19th January 2015].

Silka, L., & Rumery, J. (2013). Are libraries necessary? Are libraries obsolete? Maine Policy Review, 22 (1), 10-17, Available at: http://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/mpr/vol22/iss1/4, [Accessed 19th January 2015].
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Authors

Hazel Hall
Director of CSI
h.hall@napier.ac.uk
+44 131 455 2760
John Mowbray
Research Student
j.mowbray@napier.ac.uk
+44 131 455

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