Like many cash-strapped local authorities, Bury council, Greater Manchester, has been going for the libraries. I mean, who needs free-and easy access to warm dry spaces, good books, IT, and diverse local company, right?
They closed ten out of 14 libraries according to one source. Ten!
Now they have lots of empty buildings and desperately need to use them for something. So they turn to that most serious and reliable of means of consulting the public: Twitter! Bad move, Bury, bad move.
You can have a look at some of the early responses below and the whole sorry saga can be picked up here.
If the irony of the question was lost on whoever is in charge of the twitter account, it was not lost on ANYBODY else.
Not all libraries that were up for closure have been closed in the end. Here’s the story of one that fought back.
In Matson, Gloucester, in 2010 the initial effects of government savings were many. Legal Aid in Britain has been cut and the rules have changed, making it more risky for individuals to challenge corporations thus in many cases making justice a privilege rather than a right.
Youth projects were closed; those who needed professional care, because capitalism had eroded personal responsibility, found they were isolated. Public services like libraries were targeted for closure in mostly the poorest of communities.
These communities were deemed unworthy of a library because of lack of use. No attention was paid to the way libraries were set up without reference to the real needs of those communities in the first place.
The library had been around nearly as long as this fifties-built social housing estate and was one of few facilities available to residents.
Old people who had once taken their children there turned up one evening as did teenagers, young families, local councilors, and a former MP. Among these people, as we gathered around a six-foot wooden cross, most had little or no connection with organized religion.
Local people, especially librarians, organised a legal challenge across the county which was incredibly well done and energised us all.
We had attached books to the cross as a sign of the way the county council were crucifying public service – scapegoating vulnerable services at the altar of an unjust system. Suddenly the Jesus-story was relevant to everyone.
People turned up with clinking bags full of candles in jars that spread out around the cross; a pool of defiant lights. Then we named the powers and their injustice and sang together our own version of a Negro spiritual: ‘Were you there when they crucified our library?’
Speeches and stillness followed. The headlines that shamed the powerful and the broken system they represent came the next day.
Those of us with the story in our hearts, because we tell it week-by-week and year-by-year, have the gift of recasting it for the stories our communities tell in their struggles today.
And if we come from a richly performative community of worship we can also offer energizing, profound, and community-gathering liturgies to help retell those stories in powerful ways.
In a meeting with local community leaders a week later, leading councilors and civil servants confessed to being very nervous about getting it wrong again.
This library is still in operation to this day.
Perhaps more importantly, an act of resistance, lamentation, and community-building has taken place that names and exposes both the powers and the scapegoating mechanism they rely on.
Twitter can be fun, but if we want to save our public services, irony may not be enough: we need public theology, broad-based organising, and meaningful resistance to win.