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.