I’m not the first author to write about this topic and I’m sure I won’t be the last. Of the many things the ConDems want to cut (indeed, I’m not sure what will be left intact when they’re done) libraries may seem to be a fairly low priority.
After all, what would you rather have – your roads maintained, your bins emptied, great healthcare or a local library? Well, the sad fact is the roads where I live are a potholed mess, the bins are emptied half as frequently as they were and last year I spent ten months being yo-yoed around a health system that still takes six weeks to send the test results from one side of the building to another. Goodness knows where my tax actually goes, but that’s another story.
The main problem I have with libraries being axed (or funding reduced) is that it does what many of this Government’s cuts do – it marginalises the poor even further.
I have to confess: I don’t need or use libraries. I’m lucky enough to be able to buy the books I want and read them on my Kindle. But it wasn’t always like that.
I grew up in Bury, Lancashire. This is roughly where my book The Well is set – and where I’m planning on setting future books.
The library was a place that I visited every Saturday morning. From a one-parent family, access to a large supply of books for a child who was a voracious reader was a very good thing.
One of the most exciting days of my young life was the day I was old enough to get an adult library card, which meant not only could I read the grown-up stuff, I wasn’t now limited to a book a week. Many was the Saturday when I carried home three or four books.
I was a very well-read child, though I have to confess a preference for science fiction and horror rather than classics. I remember having to add a list of books I’d read, as a bibliography, at the end of an essay – and being challenged by the teacher, who didn’t believe I could have read them all.
For me, the library was the only way I could obtain the volume of literature my appetite demanded – and when I fast-forward to today, I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever the role it played in me becoming a copywriter and author.
So, when I hear about cuts to libraries, I picture the thousands – hundreds of thousands – of children for whom free reading will simply not be an option. Imagine the culture to which they will have no access. The opportunities taken away – not just to read, but to become writers, journalists, editors, or simply someone who just loves to read. This isn’t just taking away books, it’s blocking of culture and it’s narrowing career opportunities.
And make no mistake – this isn’t just the loss of the odd tiny library. It’s a decimation that is going to pull the literacy rug right from under this generation and those to come.
Take a look at how many libraries are affected:
It’s easy for fat, comfortable middle-class people (such as myself) to proclaim that they can get books another way – on the Internet perhaps. I think that’s another way of saying ‘let them eat cake’ and demonstrates really, really clearly how one part of society can simply not understand the needs of another.
And then there’s David Cameron’s Big Society, one of the smallest ideas I’ve ever come across. Applied to public libraries, the suggestion is that volunteers man libraries to save costs. What? Do politicians really think that a librarian has no skills and offers no value – and can be replaced by someone with no training? Is this the future? We cut skilled jobs, send intelligent people off to do something menial, then get someone with time on their hands to fill the gap? Dumb.
It’s an idea that could only be thought up by somebody who doesn’t use – or need to use – a library. Someone who can afford books. And someone who doesn’t care about those who can’t.
February 8th, 2011 at 7:46 am
The age requirement at our library to have one’s own card was 13. At twelve I couldn’t wait anymore and forged my Mom’s signature :p
Having volunteer’s may not be a bad thing – at least those who can sort and re-shelf. A friend of mine worked part-time at a library doing that. We face similar cuts in my city. The library changes their hours, host book sales, craft sales etc – just to keep their doors open at the odd hours they have. It helps that someone donated 20 computers with free Wi-Fi. Perhaps a fundraiser?
February 8th, 2011 at 8:08 am
I can’t honestly recall when I got my adult card – I remember getting it, but not exactly when. Having said that, I’m pretty sure my Dad was alive and he died when I was 12, so before then. Well done for thinking your way around the problem, though! I agree – libraries do need to rethink what they are and work harder to encourage people to go in. Back in the day you went because VCRs didn’t exist, books were one of the few types of reusable entertainment, a bit like records. Today, people gravitate towards entertainment that’s less immersive, but typically still love to read if they give it a go.
February 13th, 2011 at 6:43 pm
One guest presenter on Sky News recently explained how libraries were effectively “defunct” – replaced instead by the Internet and modern technology. I beg to differ…
If that were true then we’d ll b tlkN n txt! 4get literaC, no1 wld b abL 2 spel Ny mor, let alwn cNstrct a simpl sen10s.
Still, bg wrds lk library wnt b a prob 4t txt-ernet gNR8N!