Open letter to Chi Omwurah


This is my reply to Chi Omwurah, Labour Shadow Minister for Culture and Digital Economy:


Dear Chi,

We haven’t met. My name is Alan Gibbons. I set up the Campaign for the Book, which is part of the Speak up for Libraries coalition, some of whose members I believe you met. I instigated National Libraries Day. I have spent the last eight years of my life acting as an unpaid, volunteer advocate for libraries. It has cost me several thousand pounds of my own money and a huge number of hours.            

I expected to have to fight Tory ministers and Ed Vaizey did not disappoint, presiding over the closure of over three hundred libraries, the withdrawal of millions of books and the removal of a quarter of staff.

I hoped for better from the Labour Party, of which I am a member, but the only real measure of support came from Andy Burnham when he stopped the Wirral libraries closures some years ago.

So, like other colleagues, we continued to hope for firm, resolute support from the Labour Party. Then it came, in the form of Jeremy Corbyn’s backing for the National Demonstration for Libraries, Museums and Galleries on November 5th.

Maybe, instead of implying he is somehow deterring the development of a progressive Labour policy for libraries, you should work with him to help build our demonstration and sharpen Labour’s backing for libraries, museums, galleries and all public services.               I find your intervention disappointing in the extreme. I think it is more about your backing for Mr Smith in the leadership battle than a genuine concern for libraries.

Best wishes,

Alan Gibbons        

Chi has replied and I have asked permission to publish her comment. My reply to that comment is here:

Thank you for your prompt reply. I am unaccustomed to politicians responding so quickly. Sadly, they often do not reply at all.
I believe a leadership contest in the Labour Party should be about policy. In this light, the contested and controversial nature of your relationship to the party leader, something neither I nor library users, nor indeed the public in general can verify, are secondary and subordinate to our concerns. They should be dealt with in Labour Party meetings and not aired in The Bookseller, whose purpose is to explore publishing and books. What we who have devoted so much effort to saving libraries care about is the development of policy, how to sustain a ‘comprehensive and efficient service’, redefining it if possible, how to ensure paid, trained library staff in every library, how to extend opening hours and book stock.
For eight years, library campaigners have struggled to win the support of successive Labour Ministers and Shadow Ministers. For example, it was highly embarrassing for me personally, as a lifelong socialist, to discover that the then Shadow Minister for Culture Ed Vaizey accepted an invitation to attend the 200-delegate Campaign for the Book conference while Labour was unable to field a representative.
It seems very strange that, at a time, when a Labour leader has finally given robust support to libraries with Mr Corbyn’s backing for a National Libraries, Museums and Galleries march, his Shadow Minister should comment in a trade magazine about a Shadow Cabinet spat.
I look forward to meeting you on the demonstration and discussing this face to face.
Yours faithfully,
Alan Gibbons

Round up

Public Libraries News : 21st August

Editorial | Fewer are Taking Part so let’s have a National Demonstration




The Visitor : 22nd August

Lancashire | 2,450 sign Morecambe Library petition




Isle of Wight Radio : 22nd August

Mobile Libraries Hit By Isle of Wight Council’s Funding Cuts




The Courier : 22nd August

Cop counters move into Angus libraries as part of one-stop shop programme






The breaking of hands

When they want to break you,

They find that part of you,

That atom of your soul

As precious as your lover’s touch.

It is this that they tear from you,

Place before you like steaming entrails

Before a warrior.


When I was a young man,

A dreamer like so many more

That a new, better world was possible,

A shimmering, golden smear

On the dawn-welcoming hills,

I read about what they were doing in Chile,

How they made a government

To serve the people,

The many, not the few.


They had a singer then, a poet,

A man of words called Victor Jara.

When their tanks moved,

When the torture chambers rang

To screams and jets shrieked

Over the Moneda Palace,

They broke this man’s hands,

Those fingers that strummed strings

And made hope tremble through hearts.


Please remember this when you dare to hope,

When you think another world is possible,

When you find something within

As precious as your lover’s touch.

They will try to break you.

They will reach inside you,

Rummage through the very core of you.

They will search for it,

No matter how deep, how well hidden.


They will try to break your heart,

Break your hands, break your flesh

Like fresh, steaming bread.

They will try to make you hate

That which you loved,

Render filthy all that you admired,

Smear with dirt all that you held precious.

You may be rich in dreams and hope,

But they are rich in note and coin,

Power, lies and force.


So clench your hands into fists

And they will be less easy to break.

Take all those things you love

And know them well, know their worth,

Know every fibre of their being

So they can not be reduced to dirt.

Stay rich in dreams and hope

And share your wealth with all.

Then you may sing and hear your music

Ring through the rising of the sun.


Support for libraries and museums national demonstration

“Unite The Union is proud to be able to say that our members in Greenwich and Bromley have been leading the fight to save libraries in both these London boroughs. Whether it’s been about fighting off privatisation or the introduction of volunteers, defending libraries against closure or staffing cuts and mass casualisation, our members are ready and willing to take the action that is necessary – as a result we have won victories and concessions along the way. Now it is time to organise to make the long called for demand for unity a reality – that is why we are helping build to build for a mass, united demonstration in defence of libraries. It is time to unite, nationally, to take action together to Save Our Libraries!!!!”

Onay Kasab, Unite Regional Officer

November 5th.

British Library, Euston Road, London.


That Corbyn

The media says:

He’s a monster,

A loonie,

A goonie,

A Moonie.

He ain’t half daft,

He’s kind of soft,

Something’s missing

Up in his loft,

That Corbyn.


The media says:

He’s goofy,


Sounds like a spoofy,

A slate missing

From his roofy,

That Corbyn.


The media says:

He’s a terrorist,




Must be pissed

(well, if he drank),

a grey beard

dead weird,

That Corbyn.


The media says:

He’s all metropolitan,

Don’t do the Norf,



Weird red mister

Political demister.

That Corbyn.


The media says:

He’s a dinosaur,

It’s been done before,

Old hat Labour,

What, talk to your neighbour,

Only relevant to a Northerner



For Clause Four,

Peacenik bore,

That Corbyn.


The media says:

He’s a bloody bore,

Sits on the floor,

Won’t do first class

Sits on his bony ass,

What a bastard,

That Corbyn.


The media says:

He’s a cyclist,

Red fist,

Red mist,

He just ain’t normal,

He don’t do formal,



Trotsky-hat sporting,

What a throwback,

That Corbyn.


The media says:

He’s unelectable,

Not delectable

Like Kim Kardashian

Or Ant and Dec

Bloomin’ heck,

He don’t know the difference,

Never seen

Byker, Byker, Byker


That Corbyn.


The media says:

He’s irrelevant,


Don’t it make you curious,

Make you bloody furious

That he thinks he can stand

Before his left wing band.

Got no chance of winning,

Absolutely pointless,

That Corbyn.


The media says:

You ask me why I write this

If he’s got no chance as PM,

It’s because I got a DM

From Rupert just this am,

To tell me what to put down

In my daily tabloid,

The Digger’s bloody


That the venerable


Might actually do this,

Then we’d bloody rue this,

I tell you, screw this,

We’ve got to stop him,

That Corbyn.


When you open a book

When you open a book

When you open a book
You open a mind.
If there are many open books
Then minds open
Like flowers,
Tremulous, contrary,
Rebellious, enquiring,
Reckless, wise.

If there are many open books
People kick at doors
That are closed,
They tug at cases that are shut,
Ask questions about laws
That are unquestionable.

For that reason some people
Would rather a book
Stays closed
Like a door.

In Brent they came
With boards
To turn a door
Into a wall,
A wall
Into a final chapter

But people
Arrived with open minds
Instead of hammers and nails,
With angler’s chairs
Instead of hammers and crowbars,
With questions
Like flowers,
Tremulous, contrary,
Rebellious, enquiring,
Reckless, wise.

While the libraries stay open,
The books stay open,
The minds stay open,
The final chapter
Is still to be written
And the first chapter
Is still to be thought.

Author support for November 5th libraries and museums march

“Libraries open doors of opportunity and imagination – we must not allow those doors to be slammed shut in the faces of our young people.”

Cathy Cassidy, author

@ 5thNovDemo


“The free library is a wonderful thing.”

Roger Stevens, Author

@ 5thNovDemo


“I was brought up in a working class family where there were few books bought. The small local library I read my way right through brought a lot of light into my life.”

John Mullen, historian.

@ 5thNovDemo


“Look at what happens to Olympic teams when money is spent on them and support given in other ways. The proper funding and promotion of libraries would have a similar effect on the country’s levels of literacy and in my opinion, social behaviour and general well-being.”

Mary Hoffman, author

@ 5thNovDemo


“twas with my head inside a book, at chapter three, page ten,

first paragraph, first sentence at a semi-colon, when

I felt a strong conviction there’s no place I’d rather be

than sipping coffee with Steinbeck within the library”

Jonathan Humble, Author

@ 5thNovDemo


“When I learned to read, the reading showed me where I could get all types of books – the library widened my horizons and I now work with books in a library.”

Johanna Boal, author and librarian

@ 5thNovDemo


Without Bury Library I wouldn’t now be a poet/writer. Books made pathways into my imagination, and gave me an imprint of language and literacy. We owe it to our young people to give them this opportunity.

Chrissie Gittins, Author


Free access to books and stories made me want to write. I loved the welcoming silence of them – the space to think and imagine. As a writer who regularly works in communities, libraries are still a much needed safe, creative, community space for young and old. In Liverpool we are feeling the impact of library cutbacks, often in our economically poorer areas. Now, is not the time for silence, we need to speak out for libraries becauses our communities will all be poorer without them.

Alison Down


Politics as usual

Do you want politics as usual,

Viewed through the prism of the TV screen,

Sieved by former Young Conservative offiicals

And served like fish and chips

In a copy of the Mail, Express, Guardian,

Times or, like Voldemort, not to be named,

Reviled, renounced, shunned S*N?


Do you want politics as usual,

Posted through the letterbox

Every five years, delivered in asinine soundbites,

Carefully calibrated, moderated, triangulated

To squeeze into the mythical middle ground

As snugly as a cat in a comfy lap?


Do you want politics as usual,

Aired over canapés and amuse-bouches

In the wash of candelabra,

Lubricated by fluted glasses of wine

Under the approving eyes of advisors,

PAs, opinion-makers, heart-breakers

With gelled hair, crisp suits, pencil skirts,

Smart phones, tablets, pads?


Do you want politics as usual,

Expenses filed fat as toads,

Suits carried crisp as boots in snow,

Wars to end wars ushered through

In lobbies where cross-party shoulders

Nudge in dubious brotherhood, sisterhood,

Nodding consensus slick as tapioca balls?


Personally, and this is just a trivial voice

From the banks of the Mersey, from a house

Heaving with children struggling to have

A home of their own,

From a city groaning under the jackboot heel

Of austerity, common sense housekeeping,

Zombie economics and government contempt,

I couldn’t give a twopenny damn

For your politics as usual.


I want, demand, rage out loud

For a politics as unusual, remarkable, extraordinary,

Thousands flocking to hear a message

Of peace and justice, a new world possible,

Not what I will do for you,

But what can we all do together.


Remember, remember, the fifth of November

Remember, remember, the fifth of November!


On November 5th library and museum users and trade unionists will march in protest at cuts and closures to some of our great public services.


“We stand at the brink of a precipice looking down at the brutal cuts & closures of our libraries, museums and galleries. Grassroots campaigns across the country are fighting heroic battles to save our bastions of our rich & cultural heritage. I am proud to be part of this grassroots initiative to bring together all of the campaigns in order that our voices can be heard loud and clear outside the House of Commons on Saturday 5 November. Join us, bring family, friends, placards” John Burgess, Branch Secretary Barnet UNISON


“A new report has revealed that fewer adults are attending public libraries.

The public library service has been neglected for years, but a concern has become a crisis under this government’s tenure. A BBC Freedom of Information disclosure has revealed the scale of the disaster: 343 libraries closed; a quarter of staff lost; book stocks and closing hours slashed. The sacked Culture Minister Ed Vaizey bears a lot of responsibility.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has backed a national Libraries and Museums demonstration on November 5th.

It is time to save our libraries from the Tory axe.”

Alan Gibbons, Author, Organiser, Campaign for the Book