Thursday, 3 November 2011

Public library e-petition: 10,000 signatures strong

The petition in support of public libraries, on the UK government e-petition website, has reached 10,000 signatures. Out of the 7,672 petitions accepted for publication (many thousands were rejected) on the site, it is only the 18th to do so. You can read it, and if a UK resident sign it, here:

Is this petition a good thing overall? Yes, with qualifiers. It isn’t going to suddenly change the public library threat situation but it will raise awareness. It’s positive, and has cost nothing except a small amount of time and taxpayers money to set up and for people to sign. And a lot of people signing other e-petitions will have come across it, just by flicking through the website.

And should the number of signatories accelerate between now and the 5th of February 2012, then the petition gets discussed by the committee in charge of discussing these things, and then possibly debated in parliament.

How do we get from 10,000 to 100,000 by then? Only by a big acceleration, averaging 720 new signatures per day. Unfortunately, looking at the few petitions that have made it to that mark, it’s not going to be easy. It seems that a petition needs:
  1. The support of a national, high circulation, newspaper.
  2. The support of celebrities such as footballers.
  3. To capture a contemporary reactionary vengeance feeling.

...or preferably all three. That last one is borne out by looking at by far the most popular petition, and flicking through the titles of accepted and declined petitions. Even though duplicates are supposed to be removed from the service, they often aren’t, and many of the submitted petitions boil down to one of:
  • People on benefits are lazy.
  • Rioters should loose (sic) their benefits - the most popular one. Simply think this through, quarter of a million signers. A rioter and looter without employment would then have no income. What then? Better hope you’ve got good security at your house...
  • The EU is bad / corrupt and Britain should pull out of it immediately.
  • Bad people should be hung. No other form of punishment, just hung. That seems to be some British peoples solution to everything.

Remove that quartet of causes and the e-petitions system would be a lot quieter. Are liberals averse to online campaigns? Are e-petitions the new “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” penning a letter to his local neo-conservative paper? Is it more satisfying to deprive people of something, rather than want them to have it? Is this a symptom of a jealous, paranoid, perhaps easily led and definitely active segment of the population?

Don’t know. Or the likely answers are uncomfortable. So could the three criteria to get a petition to the 100,000 signature mark be applied to the library e-petition?

1. The support of a national, high circulation, newspaper. Unfortunately, and looking at the most successful e-petitions not surprisingly, apart from the Mirror the high circulation ones are pro-cut, pro-conservative in nature. Not sure much can be done here, unless the cost effectiveness of public libraries can be proven in a simplistic soundbite that tabloids can use e.g. a million pounds invested in a public library network saves several million pounds of taxpayers money elsewhere. Though there is a lot of evidence that the media and campaigners can use in support of public libraries in the UK, as collected by Voices for the Library on their page Reasons for Public Libraries.

2. The support of celebrities. Lobbying celebrities is difficult; the more famous they are, the more barriers they put up - have to put up - to stop themselves being deluged by requests for this, that and the other. It's an interesting experience, trying to bring library issues to the attention of people with major dissemination influence.

Yes, the public library network has the support of some celebrities, especially writers. Though it needs more with a substantial UK following (as only UK people can sign the petition). Just one blog post and tweet from a few people like e.g. Stephen Fry, with over 3.1 million followers on Twitter alone, could make a significant difference. Though, like probably all celebrities, many people are probably asking Stephen to support their cause or campaign or e-petition.

Stephen; if you should read this, then please consider cutting and pasting this and tweeting it. This may give an acceleration in the number of signatories while there is still time:

Please consider supporting public libraries by signing retweeting this and using your local library. #savelibraries

Or, here it is, tweeted already, so just retweet that. Whichever works for you.

Heck, not just Stephen - anyone can send that, celebrity with a large following or not. But, yes, any celebrities with large followings out there who are pro-literacy, pro-education and pro-access to knowledge - all it takes is your time to send that one tweet.

3. Nope. Going to leave the vengeful, lust-for-blood feelings to others.

Will the e-petition get to 100,000 signatures before the deadline? Don’t know - but it needs that big acceleration to stand a chance. Anyway - looking at many of the other popular petitions, surely we can do better as a country than just wanting people to be hung, deprived of benefits, or punished for simply not being as well-off as us?

University of Birmingham - Bristol Road, Selly Oak - Selly Oak Colleges Library - Department of Drama and Theatre Arts - sign - Please not this building is no longer a public library

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