Thousands back petition over 'grave concerns' for future of National Poetry Library
More than 6,000 people have already signed a petition expressing “grave concerns” about the future of the National Poetry Library at London’s Southbank Centre. The petition points out that imminent job cuts and operational plans “will ensure the library’s physical collection remains inaccessible to the public until at least April 2021. There will be no remote inquiry service. This will seriously undermine its essential operations along with its mission to collect all poetry published in the UK.”
It goes on to says that the Southbank Centre’s “centre-wide cuts disproportionately affect the National Poetry Library team, with only two of 10 roles retained, and the justification given for this is they ‘simply cannot afford’ to open the Royal Festival Hall. Despite this, commercial ventures on the site such as the Skylon restaurant have re-opened. The proposed redundancies to the library’s staff amount to a shocking 70% cut against a payroll saving of 32% across the organisation.
“Since its creation by the Arts Council England in 1953 the National Poetry Library has blossomed … it was entrusted to Southbank Centre in 1988 on the basis it was to run as a ‘living collection’ with ‘professional stewardship’. This latest redundancy proposal will make this impossible. Since lockdown, a gap approaching 1,000 items has opened up in the library holdings, and many of the limited edition books, journals, zines and press cuttings that they collect will no longer be available by the time the library opens again. Many other libraries across the UK, including the Scottish Poetry Library, have welcomed readers back with safe Covid-19 procedures, and we think it grossly unfair to mothball the library’s inquiry service, digital and physical collections because of the parent art centre’s historic debt and drive to commercialise the site.“
The petition refers to a previous row when the Southbank Centre “attempted to bring in a paid membership option for borrowing in 2019, which was abandoned due to passionate opposition from the poetry community. We are more than prepared to fight again to avert this even greater threat at a dark moment in human history, when poetry is more than ever a vital light for all of us. Our right to poetry is priceless. Save our National Poetry Library! Don’t put a price on poetry! We have a right to free service & access!”