KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
2015 has seen widespread campaigning for the rescue of our libraries and museums.
AS AUSTERITY BITES across the UK, institutions throughout the land are shedding staff and this has happened at Newport. At the beginning of the year, the finest Chartist exhibition in Britain, opened 2010 by Michael Sheen, faced extinction, when Newport City Council considered shutting the doors not only of its Museum and Art Gallery by this October, but also abandoning its Central Library. Cardiff Central Library is in turmoil as it offloads (‘rationalises?’) its collections and many of its local branches remain under threat. No sooner was the flag ship ‘state of the art’ modern Library opened at Birmingham, staffing was drastically reduced. The Peoples Museum in Manchester has lost its national funding. The National Gallery and the National Museum of Wales have experienced industrial action. And so the bad news continues... Have we reached the end of an era that started in Victorian times?
David Osmond writes “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER:
"The need for members and supporters to be well informed about the principles of Chartism, the history of our system of government, and the national and world events of the day was recognized throughout the Chartist movement. Newspapers like the Western Vindicator and the Northern Star were widely circulated and descriptions survive of them being read aloud at Chartist meetings for the benefit of those who were illiterate. Thomas Wells, a Newport Chartist, recalled local members crowding into the Prince of Wales public house on Commercial Street in 1839 to listen to lectures and newspaper readings. A number of Chartist branches ran their own libraries, sometimes in competition with established local private libraries, to ensure that books and other printed matter reflecting the Chartist viewpoint were available even to those of very limited means. Many localities ran regular discussion groups, educational clubs and Chartist Sunday schools. William Lovett, secretary of the London Working Men’s Association and one of the authors of the Charter, gave considerable thought while imprisoned in Warwick Prison in 1839 and 1840 to the importance of education for working people: on his release he published Chartism: A New Organisation of the People; Embracing a Plea for the Education and Improvement of the People. This strand of the movement became known as Knowledge Chartism.
Given Newport’s Chartist heritage it is sad that on March 31st 2013 the Council began a process of library closures that will culminate in the City being left with significantly fewer public libraries. At one time even the Central Library was under threat; the future of the Reference Library, which houses the Chartist Trial Depositions and many other documents relevant to the study of Monmouthshire Chartism, remains uncertain. Those who suffer most from this curtailment of free public access to books, and in the wider sense to knowledge and information, are children, the poor, the unwaged and the elderly: those who are better off can shrug and buy their books instead of borrowing them.
The City Council is in an invidious position as it tries to maintain services in the face of budget cuts enforced by the continuing austerity drive of central government, but it is to be hoped that library closures and reorganization are not carried out too hastily, and that the maximum possible discussion and consultation takes place with local communities to explore every possible means of continuing to deliver the service.
Local solutions are sometimes possible, but are obviously influenced by local circumstances and resources. Stow Hill Library, the first to close back in March 2013, however, has taken many months of hard work by a dedicated group of volunteers with the time and energy to commit themselves to the project, which has involved the establishment of a charity, applications for grant aid and other forms of fund raising, and the production of a business plan. The small size of the building has also helped to make the scheme feasible by keeping costs at a manageable level, but this particular model may not be suitable in all cases where closure is threatened.”
CHARTISM e-Mag asks readers for news of what is happening to the Libraries, Museums and Public Art where you live. Newport’s cultural provision is in the ‘melting pot’ and as everywhere else, its City Council is seeking ‘Hands Off’ solutions for their non-statutory services. Volunteers and charitable trusts? are these the ways forward?