Can you be a city of culture without libraries or museums?

Bradford launched its bid to be UK City of Culture 2025 last month, while at the same time announcing significant cuts to library and museum services. Can you be a city of culture without libraries or museums?

Winning the bid would be a fantastic opportunity for Bradford and a well-deserved platform to showcase Bradford’s talents and talented people. Hull, City of Culture in 2017, has given us a fantastic example of what can be achieved with huge increases in visitor numbers and doubling the number of residents taking part in events across the city. I want to support anything that encourages new investment, people and events into Bradford. But can you promote culture while museums have restricted opening times and libraries are staffed by struggling volunteers? I’m finding it difficult to reconcile the two.

I don’t underestimate the impact of ten years of Tory austerity. Fifty percent cuts to local government funding are going to have an impact on services and it would be spurious and self-defeating to deny it.

Bradford has always been a city of fighters, of radicals and people with innovative ideas. It’s part of our culture. So let’s embrace that in defence of libraries, reignite our creativity and think about what libraries could and should be for in the future. If libraries are for everyone, if they promote learning and ideas, they should be at the heart of a conversation about culture, they should be encouraging participation and bringing us together. And they can’t do that with 65% cuts to their budget.

In defence of libraries

This week is national libraries week, celebrating libraries in a digital world exploring how libraries are using technology, building digital skills and confidence, encouraging digital participation and inclusion, supporting health, wellbeing and education.

Public libraries were established 150 years ago so people could better themselves through access to literature and information and, in concern for the lower classes, to avoid other immoral activities. However, if sapiosexual is now a thing, you’re going to need to spend as much time in the local library as you do at the gym.

Use it or lose it

I was recently looking for some books on the history of Bradford, geek that I am, so I went to the Bradford Waterstones (the most beautiful bookshop in the world) to look for a copy of Alan Hall’s The Story of Bradford. It wasn’t on the shelf and when I asked at the counter the reply was, “Have you tried Bradford Library?” It was like a slap in the face. Of course! Where else would I find a book about Bradford? And for free.

Sometimes I forget that as much as I try to fight it, I am still a product of my age. I am a child of Thatcherism. I have to buy, own and consume. Whereas libraries … libraries are one of the very few places you can go, stay as long as you want to and you don’t have to buy anything to take up space there. I think that’s worth repeating – YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SPEND ANY MONEY IN A LIBRARY. No one will ask you to leave until closing time. No one will bother you, or make demands of your time. You can read or just be still. Magazines and newspapers are freely available. With a library card you can walk out with free books. In some ways, it’s a miracle that libraries continue to exist in any form at all.

Civilization requires wise and engaged citizens, and for hundreds if not thousands of years we have built and sustained museums, libraries and archives in our communities to advance this goal for our own survival – to stimulate knowledge creation and creativity; foster learning and independent thinking; support civic engagement and dialogue; encourage emotional intelligence and well-being; and to deepen our knowledge of the past and clarify our plans for the future. Michael Peter Edson

As writer Val McDermid says, “They’re dangerous places libraries”. Originally, libraries were places where debates, speeches and conversations took place, fuelling a better understanding of the world. If we can’t imagine the world differently, how can we go about making the world a different place? In the current climate libraries seem more necessary than ever.

Libraries are at the heart of their communities

Our libraries remain a refuge for some of the most vulnerable in our society. They are accessible to all and provide a warm, quiet, welcoming space. Libraries open up a world of learning, places and stories that otherwise might not be available. Readers become writers and regenerate the shelves. People seek out the local library when they move to a new area to find the friendly heart of the town or village. Libraries have become essential for people who don’t have computers, to look for work or fill out government forms.

In England, over a third of the population visits their local library. In the poorest areas, that figure rises to nearly a half. Libraries Deliver UK

Yes, times change. Yes, information is now available on the internet. But we are also increasingly recognising that we are missing those spaces where we can meet, talk, come together and feel part of a community. Libraries have had to adapt and are increasing filling the gaps of closed down community centres with parent and baby groups, knit and natters, talks, skills sessions and afternoon teas. Libraries are an antidote to shopping, social isolation and social media. We need them.

Libraries and museums should be at the heart of Bradford’s City of Culture bid. It should be an opportunity to invest in a long-term strategy to tackle poor literacy levels, re-energise our communities, rediscover our past, tell our stories and start a conversation about the future of our city. We can’t afford not to.

What can we do to protect our libraries?

Join your local library. Borrow some books. Go in and have a chat with the librarians. Find out what’s on, maybe suggest something that you might like to do. These are our spaces, make sure they work for you. Sign the petition against the cuts, write to your councillors, MP and the T&A. Make some noise about it. Because once they’re gone, they’ll be gone. It’ll only be later that we notice once again what we’ve lost. And then it will be too late.





  1. I really loved my libraries as a child. We moved about a bit so finding and using the library was part of settling in. They have so many functions now surely they are cost effective in combatting loneliness, getting people out and therefore exercising, providing meeting places outside the home and providing free books for leisure research and homework. A community is less of a place without a library..


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