• Libraries: a Hertfordshire MP responds (but not one of ours)

From the eastern edge of the county comes news of one Hertfordshire MP who has responded to a request by a constituent that he demonstrate support for public libraries.

Annie Johnson, a We Heart Libraries site member, contacted Hertford and Stortford MP Mark Prisk (Conservative) to share her views on the challenges the service is facing and to ask him to sign this Early Day Motion which was tabled as part of the recent Speak Up for Libraries rally.

She’s just received a response. True, it’s taken nearly a month to get to her, devotes a lot of space to blaming local authorities and the Labour Party, explains how libraries are actually flourishing (despite any evidence we might have noticed to the contrary) and declines to take the action requested, but at least her request was acknowledged and replied to:

While Labour is predictably trying to present any library closure as a ‘coalition cut’, the tight spending that local authorities are facing is a direct result of the last Government losing control of the nation’s finances. Due to this mismanagement, the UK now spends more on debt interest in a day than the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has spent on the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council in the last three years combined.

Read Annie’s letter and Mr Prisk’s full response on her blog here.

Whatever you might make of this argument, at least he replied. Regrettably we have not received any response at all from Peter Lilley, Stephen McPartland or Oliver Heald, the three Members of Parliament for the area We Heart Libraries covers, who we contacted on the morning of the Speak Up for Libraries rally.

We sent each of them a letter flagging up what we think are some key points about the state of the public library service and asked them to sign the same Early Day Motion. We went further with Peter Lilley, the member for Hitchin and Harpenden, who happens to be the MP for the constituency we live in.

Having had no success with our earlier attempts to make an appointment for a meeting on the day, we attempted – and failed – to meet him in Parliament’s Central Lobby using the green card system which allows members of the public who have made it that far to request their MP comes down to see them.

It’s entirely possible he wasn’t in the building, of course – we wouldn’t know, as the green card request was met with silence from his office. Traditionally, MPs who can’t respond to a green card request in person send a letter addressing the issue the constituent wanted to see them about.

We haven’t had one of those, either.

What all this demonstrates – Mr Prisk’s letter, and the lack of any response from the trio from the north of the county – is what an important task people who care about libraries face in trying to get their MPs engaged.

This isn’t about blame-shifting or about party political point-scoring. It’s about access to information, and literacy, and the strengthening of common civic values via a defence of the public library service. All things that should attract cross-party support, and all things that MPs are well placed to take an active role in promoting.

So, it’s great that Mr Prisk replied – it wasn’t the reply we’d have wanted, but it’s a start. There will be many more letters written before this campaign is over, and hopefully many more replied to. The arguments are on our side – get writing!

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