THE BIG INTERVIEW: Library enemies brought to book

This Is Wiltshire: Shirley Burnham at Old Town Library Shirley Burnham at Old Town Library

Shirley Burnham, 66, campaigns to save Swindon’s libraries from cutbacks, and is best known for her work with the Save Old Town Library group. She lives in Lawn with husband Tony, a retired civil engineer. The couple have a daughter and a grandson...

HOW does a library user become a library campaigner?

Old Town Library,” said Shirley Burnham, “used to be on Victoria Road and is now housed in the Arts Centre.

“I loved it from the day I found it. In early 2008 someone told me our library could close and asked if anyone could get up a petition. So I did.

“More petitions followed and have had some success, but the problems – and cuts – don’t go away. We organised a Friends group, which is now a campaigning group.

“In Government there are people who think they are education experts because they went to school when they were kids, and others who pretend to be medical experts because they sometimes go to the doctor.

“I am not a politician, a consultant or a librarian, so should people like me speak out? Yes, because it is the users who must tell the policy makers what the service they value should be like and why it matters to them.”

Her unshakeable belief in the value of libraries and learning perhaps stems from decades spent seeking knowledge and experience.

Shirley was born in Oxford and is one of three siblings.

Her mother was a talented violinist who later worked as a prep school matron. Her father was an electronics engineer.

Convent school was followed by a brief stint at boarding school and then a secretarial college.

Shirley began, but did not finish, a nursing course, although she wryly points out that she learned some useful first aid techniques.

“I really didn’t wake up to the state of the world until I was quite a mature adult. I think I’d just gone through life without very seriously examining issues.

“It was after my parents divorced and I was in my late teens that I started worrying about injustices in society.

“It was a time of protest in the United States against segregation and things like that, so I became a bit more aware, but I was a bit of a late developer when it came to being socially active.”

In about 1971 a blossoming friendship with members of the Mormon faith saw her head for Brigham Young University in the church’s home state of Utah, where she studied French. Already an avid reader, she was able to devour authors such as Camus, Maupassant and Balzac in their original language.

Other US universities were awash with protest against the Nixon administration, the Vietnam War and capitalism, but things were rather different at Brigham Young.

“There was no rebellion on the Brigham Young University campus. We were all as nice and sweet as apple pie!

“Twice a day the American national anthem was played. The flag went up the pole in the morning and was brought down in the evening, and every student stopped where they were to attention with their hand like that...” (here she placed a hand over her heart) “...and waited until the verse had been played and the flag had gone up or down.”

Eventually becoming disenchanted with certain church doctrines, she headed off once more. Finding her way to Honduras, she taught English and prepared textbooks on the subject.

It was in Honduras that she met her husband, and the two were married in the nation’s capital, Tegucigalpa.

Tony’s work took the couple to other countries, including Bangladesh and Pakistan. They eventually returned to Britain in 1994, settling first in North London, then Marlborough and finally Swindon.

“We lived in a tiny little two-up, two-down in Marlborough, but Marlborough is so posh that if you sell a two-up, two-down there you can actually buy a bungalow in Swindon. Or you used to be able to. That seemed like a good idea, seeing as we were getting on a bit.”

There are those who say libraries are a relic of the past, that their functions have been taken over by the internet and that few people want them. Shirley disagrees: “All you have to do is brighten up libraries, make them more user-friendly, refresh the stock and tell the people that the libraries are there.

“There are a lot of people in Old Town who don’t even know that the library is in the Arts Centre. They’re amazed when you tell them. ‘Oh, we thought it had closed...’ It wouldn’t cost the library service much to give it a bit of a puff from time to time.

“You don’t get Story Time on the internet, do you? You don’t get a reading group on the internet and you don’t get... well, you don’t get the library.”

She also rejects the suggestion that libraries should be merged with other facilities.

“A community centre with a shelf of books in it isn’t a library. A library has to have books, it has to have knowledgeable staff, it has to be open when people want to use it.

“And it’s a neutral space. Nobody’s got an agenda in the library.

“Whatever background you’re from, whatever religion you espouse is totally irrelevant. Whoever you are, you’re welcome in the library.

“It’s very different from places that are run by committees.

Libraries should continue under council control, with paid staff.

“We know they contribute hugely to family literacy and well-being.

“A literate population will boost Swindon’s prosperity and, indeed, the economy of the UK.

“It is just so short-sighted to destroy or downgrade such a marvellous institution.”

Comments (14)

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7:20am Mon 18 Aug 14

Shirley Burnham says...

The 'friends of old town library' website has not been updated for some time, but hosts a lot of background to the struggle for its future. However, if people want to know more about the state of the nation's public libraries, I'd suggest (as a very good start) :

Public Libraries News
http://www.publiclib
rariesnews.com/

Voices for the Library
http://www.voicesfor
thelibrary.org.uk/

The Library Campaign
http://www.libraryca
mpaign.com/

Don't Privatise Libraries
http://dontprivatise
libraries.blogspot.c
o.uk/

One matter that I did discuss with Mr Hudson that has not appeared here was a plea for Swindon Council to 'dare to be different' in its approach to our Library Service. Oh how much I wish they would.
The 'friends of old town library' website has not been updated for some time, but hosts a lot of background to the struggle for its future. However, if people want to know more about the state of the nation's public libraries, I'd suggest (as a very good start) : Public Libraries News http://www.publiclib rariesnews.com/ Voices for the Library http://www.voicesfor thelibrary.org.uk/ The Library Campaign http://www.libraryca mpaign.com/ Don't Privatise Libraries http://dontprivatise libraries.blogspot.c o.uk/ One matter that I did discuss with Mr Hudson that has not appeared here was a plea for Swindon Council to 'dare to be different' in its approach to our Library Service. Oh how much I wish they would. Shirley Burnham
  • Score: 5

7:20am Mon 18 Aug 14

Shirley Burnham says...

The 'friends of old town library' website has not been updated for some time, but hosts a lot of background to the struggle for its future. However, if people want to know more about the state of the nation's public libraries, I'd suggest (as a very good start) :

Public Libraries News
http://www.publiclib
rariesnews.com/

Voices for the Library
http://www.voicesfor
thelibrary.org.uk/

The Library Campaign
http://www.libraryca
mpaign.com/

Don't Privatise Libraries
http://dontprivatise
libraries.blogspot.c
o.uk/

One matter that I did discuss with Mr Hudson that has not appeared here was a plea for Swindon Council to 'dare to be different' in its approach to our Library Service. Oh how much I wish they would.
The 'friends of old town library' website has not been updated for some time, but hosts a lot of background to the struggle for its future. However, if people want to know more about the state of the nation's public libraries, I'd suggest (as a very good start) : Public Libraries News http://www.publiclib rariesnews.com/ Voices for the Library http://www.voicesfor thelibrary.org.uk/ The Library Campaign http://www.libraryca mpaign.com/ Don't Privatise Libraries http://dontprivatise libraries.blogspot.c o.uk/ One matter that I did discuss with Mr Hudson that has not appeared here was a plea for Swindon Council to 'dare to be different' in its approach to our Library Service. Oh how much I wish they would. Shirley Burnham
  • Score: 3

8:26am Mon 18 Aug 14

Always Grumpy says...

Burnham, let them 'dare to be different' with your money, NOT mine.
Close them!
Burnham, let them 'dare to be different' with your money, NOT mine. Close them! Always Grumpy
  • Score: -4

1:01pm Mon 18 Aug 14

Laura Swaffield, www.librarycampaign.com says...

Grumpy, you'd be surprised how little of 'your' money it takes to run a decent small library.

For that, you get an all-purpose drop-in centre that benefits every age group from babies to the very old, gives essential internet access to the many who don't have it, plus pre-school preparation, education, study space, access to info on essential matters such as health, a safe hang-out space for teens - and young mothers.... and much else.

The damage caused by loss of all this will hit your pocket.
Most people, however, might be more concerned about the damage to human beings and the fabric of society. (Reading fiction does much to develop empathy and the imagination - try it.)

Shirley is a campaigner of national importance, and Swindon should be proud to have her.
Grumpy, you'd be surprised how little of 'your' money it takes to run a decent small library. For that, you get an all-purpose drop-in centre that benefits every age group from babies to the very old, gives essential internet access to the many who don't have it, plus pre-school preparation, education, study space, access to info on essential matters such as health, a safe hang-out space for teens - and young mothers.... and much else. The damage caused by loss of all this will hit your pocket. Most people, however, might be more concerned about the damage to human beings and the fabric of society. (Reading fiction does much to develop empathy and the imagination - try it.) Shirley is a campaigner of national importance, and Swindon should be proud to have her. Laura Swaffield, www.librarycampaign.com
  • Score: 4

2:25pm Mon 18 Aug 14

mrwoo says...

books are gay!
books are gay! mrwoo
  • Score: -2

2:54pm Mon 18 Aug 14

Always Grumpy says...

Laura Swaffield, www.librarycampaign.
com
wrote:
Grumpy, you'd be surprised how little of 'your' money it takes to run a decent small library.

For that, you get an all-purpose drop-in centre that benefits every age group from babies to the very old, gives essential internet access to the many who don't have it, plus pre-school preparation, education, study space, access to info on essential matters such as health, a safe hang-out space for teens - and young mothers.... and much else.

The damage caused by loss of all this will hit your pocket.
Most people, however, might be more concerned about the damage to human beings and the fabric of society. (Reading fiction does much to develop empathy and the imagination - try it.)

Shirley is a campaigner of national importance, and Swindon should be proud to have her.
Your opinion of course. I think Burnham is a complete embarrassment to the town and the sooner she leaves for pastures new the better.

I don't care how much it costs.

Small libraries, such as Old Town, are outdated, irrelevant and just not either important or necessary.

When I want a particular book, I buy it myself, not rely on someone else to pay for it. Try it yourself, you would be amazed how easy and straightforward it can be.
To give you a start try this site http://www.bookdepos
itory.com/
[quote][p][bold]Laura Swaffield, www.librarycampaign. com[/bold] wrote: Grumpy, you'd be surprised how little of 'your' money it takes to run a decent small library. For that, you get an all-purpose drop-in centre that benefits every age group from babies to the very old, gives essential internet access to the many who don't have it, plus pre-school preparation, education, study space, access to info on essential matters such as health, a safe hang-out space for teens - and young mothers.... and much else. The damage caused by loss of all this will hit your pocket. Most people, however, might be more concerned about the damage to human beings and the fabric of society. (Reading fiction does much to develop empathy and the imagination - try it.) Shirley is a campaigner of national importance, and Swindon should be proud to have her.[/p][/quote]Your opinion of course. I think Burnham is a complete embarrassment to the town and the sooner she leaves for pastures new the better. I don't care how much it costs. Small libraries, such as Old Town, are outdated, irrelevant and just not either important or necessary. When I want a particular book, I buy it myself, not rely on someone else to pay for it. Try it yourself, you would be amazed how easy and straightforward it can be. To give you a start try this site http://www.bookdepos itory.com/ Always Grumpy
  • Score: -7

4:11pm Mon 18 Aug 14

A.Baron-Cohen says...

Taxpayers money should not be used to entertain people!
Libraries should be run by charities, Church etc... not by the council.
I object to any public money being spent on providing books, CDs, DVDs when we have a crisis in Adult care and road maintenance!
Taxpayers money should not be used to entertain people! Libraries should be run by charities, Church etc... not by the council. I object to any public money being spent on providing books, CDs, DVDs when we have a crisis in Adult care and road maintenance! A.Baron-Cohen
  • Score: -8

5:17pm Mon 18 Aug 14

trolley dolley says...

Thank goodness Shirley Burnham wasn't around in Roman times otherwise we would still be writing on clay tablets and possibly reading Rune stones.

Come on Shirley, catch up.
Thank goodness Shirley Burnham wasn't around in Roman times otherwise we would still be writing on clay tablets and possibly reading Rune stones. Come on Shirley, catch up. trolley dolley
  • Score: -4

6:22pm Mon 18 Aug 14

Phantom Poster says...

“You don’t get Story Time on the internet, do you? You don’t get a reading group on the internet and you don’t get... well, you don’t get the library.”

Well maybe Shirley could just develop some internet search skills:

http://www.bgfl.org/
bgfl/custom/resource
s_ftp/client_ftp/ks1
/english/story_telli
ng/index.htm

http://readinggroups
.org/
“You don’t get Story Time on the internet, do you? You don’t get a reading group on the internet and you don’t get... well, you don’t get the library.” Well maybe Shirley could just develop some internet search skills: http://www.bgfl.org/ bgfl/custom/resource s_ftp/client_ftp/ks1 /english/story_telli ng/index.htm http://readinggroups .org/ Phantom Poster
  • Score: 3

8:39pm Mon 18 Aug 14

Alan Bast*rd says...

Well I say fair play to Shirley. Wanting someone to leave town as they want to keep libraries?! Have a word with yourself grumpy
Well I say fair play to Shirley. Wanting someone to leave town as they want to keep libraries?! Have a word with yourself grumpy Alan Bast*rd
  • Score: 4

8:54pm Mon 18 Aug 14

Elizabeth A says...

Shirley Burnham is not only well-known but is also highly regarded as a national library campaigner. The voting on the comments shows what people really think. Well done Shirley for speaking up for libraries, explaining their value; and for doing so to speak up for those who so often do not have a voice.

People who post such ill-informed comments clearly do not understand what a library has to offer.

As you and Laura Swaffield point out, they are cheap to run but are of much benefit on many different levels to all sections of the community.

What's not to love about libraries?
Shirley Burnham is not only well-known but is also highly regarded as a national library campaigner. The voting on the comments shows what people really think. Well done Shirley for speaking up for libraries, explaining their value; and for doing so to speak up for those who so often do not have a voice. People who post such ill-informed comments clearly do not understand what a library has to offer. As you and Laura Swaffield point out, they are cheap to run but are of much benefit on many different levels to all sections of the community. What's not to love about libraries? Elizabeth A
  • Score: -2

10:51pm Mon 18 Aug 14

Phantom Poster says...

Elizabeth A wrote:
Shirley Burnham is not only well-known but is also highly regarded as a national library campaigner. The voting on the comments shows what people really think. Well done Shirley for speaking up for libraries, explaining their value; and for doing so to speak up for those who so often do not have a voice.

People who post such ill-informed comments clearly do not understand what a library has to offer.

As you and Laura Swaffield point out, they are cheap to run but are of much benefit on many different levels to all sections of the community.

What's not to love about libraries?
You're new here, aren't you? The anonymous voting system is a totally flawed irrelevance. It's trivial to set the voting score on a post to whatever you want - if you could be bothered to do so.

Is it a common trait that everyone who supports libraries have a total ignorance of the internet and how it works?
[quote][p][bold]Elizabeth A[/bold] wrote: Shirley Burnham is not only well-known but is also highly regarded as a national library campaigner. The voting on the comments shows what people really think. Well done Shirley for speaking up for libraries, explaining their value; and for doing so to speak up for those who so often do not have a voice. People who post such ill-informed comments clearly do not understand what a library has to offer. As you and Laura Swaffield point out, they are cheap to run but are of much benefit on many different levels to all sections of the community. What's not to love about libraries?[/p][/quote]You're new here, aren't you? The anonymous voting system is a totally flawed irrelevance. It's trivial to set the voting score on a post to whatever you want - if you could be bothered to do so. Is it a common trait that everyone who supports libraries have a total ignorance of the internet and how it works? Phantom Poster
  • Score: 1

10:58pm Mon 18 Aug 14

Phantom Poster says...

Elizabeth A wrote:
Shirley Burnham is not only well-known but is also highly regarded as a national library campaigner. The voting on the comments shows what people really think. Well done Shirley for speaking up for libraries, explaining their value; and for doing so to speak up for those who so often do not have a voice.

People who post such ill-informed comments clearly do not understand what a library has to offer.

As you and Laura Swaffield point out, they are cheap to run but are of much benefit on many different levels to all sections of the community.

What's not to love about libraries?
By that way, I'm an honours degree educated person and I have been to libraries many times. How dare you be so condescending to say that anyone who happens to disagrees with you is "ill-informed".
[quote][p][bold]Elizabeth A[/bold] wrote: Shirley Burnham is not only well-known but is also highly regarded as a national library campaigner. The voting on the comments shows what people really think. Well done Shirley for speaking up for libraries, explaining their value; and for doing so to speak up for those who so often do not have a voice. People who post such ill-informed comments clearly do not understand what a library has to offer. As you and Laura Swaffield point out, they are cheap to run but are of much benefit on many different levels to all sections of the community. What's not to love about libraries?[/p][/quote]By that way, I'm an honours degree educated person and I have been to libraries many times. How dare you be so condescending to say that anyone who happens to disagrees with you is "ill-informed". Phantom Poster
  • Score: 1

12:24am Tue 19 Aug 14

Elizabeth A says...

Phantom Poster wrote:
Elizabeth A wrote:
Shirley Burnham is not only well-known but is also highly regarded as a national library campaigner. The voting on the comments shows what people really think. Well done Shirley for speaking up for libraries, explaining their value; and for doing so to speak up for those who so often do not have a voice.

People who post such ill-informed comments clearly do not understand what a library has to offer.

As you and Laura Swaffield point out, they are cheap to run but are of much benefit on many different levels to all sections of the community.

What's not to love about libraries?
By that way, I'm an honours degree educated person and I have been to libraries many times. How dare you be so condescending to say that anyone who happens to disagrees with you is "ill-informed".
The point I was attempting to make was that Shirley made her point well. Libraries are all inclusive and have far reaching benefits. They are a cost-effective way of providing much to a community.

Comments such as " books are gay" and that books can simply be bought, kind of misses the point.

And thank you for enlightening me. It seems the voting system can be manipulated by those that seek to do so.
[quote][p][bold]Phantom Poster[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Elizabeth A[/bold] wrote: Shirley Burnham is not only well-known but is also highly regarded as a national library campaigner. The voting on the comments shows what people really think. Well done Shirley for speaking up for libraries, explaining their value; and for doing so to speak up for those who so often do not have a voice. People who post such ill-informed comments clearly do not understand what a library has to offer. As you and Laura Swaffield point out, they are cheap to run but are of much benefit on many different levels to all sections of the community. What's not to love about libraries?[/p][/quote]By that way, I'm an honours degree educated person and I have been to libraries many times. How dare you be so condescending to say that anyone who happens to disagrees with you is "ill-informed".[/p][/quote]The point I was attempting to make was that Shirley made her point well. Libraries are all inclusive and have far reaching benefits. They are a cost-effective way of providing much to a community. Comments such as " books are gay" and that books can simply be bought, kind of misses the point. And thank you for enlightening me. It seems the voting system can be manipulated by those that seek to do so. Elizabeth A
  • Score: 3

Comments are closed on this article.

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