*This article originally appeared on Bella Caledonia. Read it here and support independent journalism in Scotland.
There is a light on a Whiteinch library, G14. The gates are locked, and have been for over a year, but from time to time, there is a light on. There’s smoke from the chimney occasionally too, a wee hint of life on the corner of a Glasgow street that has been dead for a long time.
Across the road is the old Burgh Hall, closed since 2006. Redbrick sandstone, with coats of arms chiselled into the rock, given over to corrugated shutters and sprouting vegetation from its former glory.
The adjacent park, one of Glasgow’s most beautiful, provides the backdrop to this neglect. A vast swathe of green, hemmed in by a scar of expressway, constantly busy, which one must bow down to, head lowered through the underpass to reach an escape from the noise, the traffic, and the palpable reminder that the the pillars of community; the library, the hall, are being picked apart, one by one.
In our society, nothing highlights the gap between elected officialdom, and the communities they purport to represent than the closure of libraries. For Scotland, a country that defines itself on its contribution to world literature and an education system that has treasured popular literacy since the Reformation, the closure of public libraries is nothing short of the ultimate failure of government; local and national alike.
Yet here we are. Whiteinch is to lose its library.
If we nod to the the government’s SIMD index, a way of ‘scoring inequality’ with the help of an interactive colour-coded map, an aping caricature of Charles Booth’s 1898-9 effort, a damning indictment of the lack of progress that we have made as a society, then it becomes clear that Whiteinch is very much what the inactive, talking heads across all media outlets would refer to as ‘deprived’. An apparently unenviable set of results across the board; high numbers of benefits claims, overcrowding, poor health, and a relatively high crime rate, is offset by a great mark in its geographical access score, something which translates as a good location with easy access to big retail centres and schools.
For a council reeling from the fiscal effects of the pandemic, a pandemic which has apparently hampered their ability to do even the most basic of tasks such as rubbish collection, the inevitable prospect of selling the Whiteinch library building to developers is too good an opportunity to miss. Walking distance to the West End, with Victoria park on its doorstep, and the added caveat of being in Jordanhill School’s catchment area, the actions of the council become transparent.
The same is happening up in Maryhill with their library, another prime piece of real estate that is ripe for plucking, regardless of the residents’ needs or wants. The poverty accrued from years of neglect and austerity, and capped off by the current health crisis, is easily swept aside with the prospect of big investment from private enterprise.
The reason behind such dehumanising initiatives such as the SIMD index is to tackle poverty in the areas that need it most. Ironically, it seems that the access to library services actually improves the scores, thus the removal of a community library amidst such a plethora of numerical neglect reveals the SIMD index as the phoney act of tokenism and think-tankery that it is.
The endless monotony of a pandemic has actually seen a huge increase in reading, one that has seen the coffers of private enterprise and big publishing lined nicely in the absence of library services. Such a boost in reading should be the base from which libraries can thrive, not close. Secondly, the pandemic has shown that, for better or worse, we as a society are completely reliant on technology and access to the Internet. In an area in which Internet access is limited to those who can pay privately for the privilege, the closure of the library marks a great two fingers to the residents who continue to make use of the service, continuing to stand outside the stricken building in order to check emails or use the web.
Whiteinch is a community that is in the process of seeing its services stripped, a social scarification that paves the way to private development and a complete sidelining of its current residents. We as residents, like the great yards of South Street, are scheduled for scrap. Geographical victims of the Clydeside Expressway and the Clyde Tunnel, the community has already been physically carved up. The old adage of divide and conquer is no overstatement here, as Whiteinch stands, ironically given the road situation, at a crossroads.
It is time to organise to save the Whiteinch Public Library, only community action will bring about positive change for the area.
There is a petition at 38 degrees which can be signed here.