AUTHOR Peter Ross reads a passage from his novel to a gathered crowd. They are listening intently in the warm summer sunshine.
However, this isn’t a book festival or launch event, it is the latest Saturday morning read in outside the Couper Institute in the south side of Glasgow.
The Cathcart venue is one of five libraries operated by Glasgow Life, the arms-length organisation responsible for the city’s culture and leisure services, which have yet to reopen their doors. A further £1.2million would be required to reopen the remaining venues with the Couper library alone said to require £400,000 to reopen.
Every Saturday members of Save the Couper have come together as other campaign groups across the city have, including those in Whiteinch and Maryhill to highlight the importance of these venues to the people and communities who use them.
Glasgow Life lost £38m last year due to lockdown and its estimated income for 2020/21 is around £6.4m. An agreed council funding deal will see Glasgow Life receive a guaranteed £100m for the next four years to open 90 out of its 171 venues. Without further funding, they say they cannot reopen any more venues.
It is why The Herald has launched A Fair Deal for Glasgow campaign calling on both Scottish and UK governments to agree a new funding deal for Glasgow’s culture and leisure and venues of national and international significance.
We are also seeking commitment from both Scottish and UK governments to work with the city to achieve this and Glasgow’s cultural assets and collections of national and international significance are recognised and funded at national level.
Our funding call comes at a time when around 500 jobs will go at the organisation over a five year period.
Glasgow-based author Peter Ross said: “Having grown up in a family that at times struggled for money, I know how important libraries are to children with an appetite for books. I am supporting the Save The Couper campaign because I want every child and adult to have that opportunity to satisfy their hunger for reading. We shouldn’t regard libraries as a pleasant extra, a soft target for budget cuts, but rather as a vital part of the local community and wider society. They are the NHS for the imagination. They should not be shut.”
Mhairi Taylor is one of the campaigners fighting for the future of the Couper Institute.
“We have had great support for our read ins, even during the summer months, and have had regular attenders. It all helps to put the pressure on,” said Ms Taylor. “We were delighted when Mr Ross said he would come along to one of our read ins as this one of the ways we are getting our message across.
“We feel that at time when people and services will be stretched, that a free resource for local communities is going to be so important. People bring their children along, come to use computers and access the internet to look for jobs. As well as the educational aspect access to a library can be beneficial to health and well-being.”
Glasgow Green councillor Jon Molyneux, who was also at the read in, said: “Fixing this is really a test of the Government’s claims to a wellbeing economy, which values our collective health, wealth, and happiness more than GDP growth. There are few more potent symbols of Glasgow’s shared wellbeing than its free public libraries, including those which were gifted to the city by Andrew Carnegie, and by the Couper family, to benefit citizens in perpetuity. To see children locked out of their local libraries through the school holidays, after the year they’ve just been through, is a cruel blow, and it’s now vital that the Government works with the Council to find both immediate and longer-term solutions to this funding crisis.”
Cllr Molyneux also backed The Herald’s campaign saying: “The Scottish Greens are pleased to support the Herald’s Fair Deal for Glasgow campaign, though we are disappointed that it’s needed. The Scottish Government has known the impact of COVID on Glasgow’s community facilities for more than a year now, but it hasn’t done nearly enough to prevent the ongoing closures which are affecting dozens of local venues, with no apparent end in sight. We will keep supporting library read-ins and other local campaigns for as long as it takes.”
Across the city yesterday a similar noise was being made about the plight of Whiteinch library.
Last month campaigners said revealed they were prepared for legal action to prevent the permanent closure of library the Whiteinch venue.
Backed by Whiteinch Community Council, the Save Whiteinch Library campaign told city council Chief Executive Annemarie O’Donnell it is prepared to take the matter to the Court of Session seeking a Judicial Review.
The campaigners argued that the council has failed on a number of points including not consulting the local community and has raised concerns over equality issues.
Rob Mellish, of Save Whiteinch Library, said: “We want Glasgow Life and City Council leader Susan Aitken to know that we are not going away.
“Given that the council leadership won’t talk to us let alone negotiate and refuses to answer our moral arguments, our next steps need to be both political and legal.
“We will continue to campaign to make this the key local issue in next year’s council elections. We know that once the summer holidays are over that all the political parties will be preparing the manifestos for this. We intend to be front of mind while they do this and, once campaigning starts, ensure that our cause is right up the agenda.
“We will also work actively and cooperatively with the other closures campaigns esp. Glasgow Against Closures to ensure that maximum political pressure is brought on the City Chambers and Holyrood to achieve our goals in the coming months.
“In terms of future legal action, the ideal time to spring once again into action is maybe when the bulk of covid regulations are removed and we have returned to something like normal. The arguments in our legal challenge will still apply.”
A spokesperson for Glasgow Life said: “Re-opening dates for the majority, 28, of Glasgow’s 33 public libraries were indicated in April as part of the £100m budget we have been given by Glasgow City Council this year which is being used in full reopening more than 90 venues across the city. Right now 22 libraries are open, and four more are due to reopen in the coming weeks with Shettleston Library expected to close for refurbishment once Parkhead Library reopens and two more are due to reopen in 2022 after refurbishments are complete. The cost of operating the remaining libraries currently without opening dates would be £1.2 million a year.”