Monday, 7 February 2011

Failing to save libraries will be

a false economy in the end. What is "saved" on libraries will be swallowed up in such things as "graffiti response" and "mental health services" and "early retirement due to stress and burnout". Worse still it might add to the work of the police and the law courts.
One death on the roads can cost our state around a million dollars. It sounds an enormous sum of money and I can see some people saying "you must be wrong" but, by the time you count in all the chaos, the confusion, the police time, the forensic time, the coroner's time, the time given by the other emergency services involved etc etc, it soon adds up. That does not even begin to include the emotional and financial impact on the family of the victim - who may also be victims themselves.
Nobody knows how many people choose to kill themselves by driving full speed into a tree. It happens.
Avoiding just one of those deaths by increasing library expenditure is surely worth it. Of course the problem is that you cannot actually say to the government, "If you spend a million here then
Jo or Josie Bloggs will not commit suicide and will become a taxpaying citizen." It simply does not work like that. It is quite possible that Jo or Josie may not use the library themselves - but the flow on effect will be such that they benefit.
And, of course, public libraries do cater for the mentally ill, the mentally unstable, the unemployed, the lonely and for people of all income levels and from every conceivable background. Even other libraries assist in this way. Our Guild library caters for this range of people too. The only differences between that library and the big public one are membership of the group and an interest in a much narrower range of topics - oh and perhaps availability as opening hours are, inevitably, rather limited. Still, it caters for a very diverse group of people and that matters.
Libraries are great levellers. In the television series, "Keeping Up Appearances" one of the characters, Onslow, is portrayed as rough, uncouth, badly dressed (usually in a workman's singlet) and generally low-class. He has good qualities however, one is a certain kindness and another is that he reads. At one point he is shown as reading a book on nuclear physics. Unlikely though this may seem I have also seen just such a real life character, a gardener with the local council, reading a similar book as he ate his lunch and saying enthusiastically to the person next to him, "Hey, listen to this. It says here..." He then proceeded to read a portion. The book was a library book.
Without a library I doubt he would have been reading the book. He could just have sat there, as so many of the supermarket employees do, and just stared into space smoking yet another cigarette.
What people choose to do of course is up to them. I happen to believe that reading is better than staring into space and smoking cigarettes. If libraries are not there however it is less likely that some people will read. Not everyone has the money to spend on books. If I had to rely on my own finances to read then I would read far less than I do. I would like to buy all the books I read and then perhaps pass on those I did not wish to keep. The reality however is that I cannot afford to do that. Most people cannot afford to do that. That is why we need libraries and why authors must be paid according to library borrowings as well as other sales.
Other people would never buy a book at all and that would mean they would never read. The television set, once bought, costs a few cents or pence for hours of "entertainment". The book is not going to be cost effective for the individual.
For society however books may well be the most cost effective means of caring for the community - and governments have to be made to understand that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had not thought of it in terms of looking after mental health but you are absolutely right.