Saturday, 5 February 2011

It is "Save Our Libraries" Day

in the United Kingdom.
Now, to me, this is a no brainer. Why would you even need a "Save Our Libraries" Day? Surely any modern democratic society is aware of the value of libraries?
I recently had cause to read the Annual Report of our local council and, in particular, the section which dealt with the library. Our local library service (two libraries, a mobile and a home-delivery service to the elderly) dealt with ninety-six people on average ever opening hour. That did not include the school groups that came in or the people who just wandered in and out again. These were people borrowing books, using the computer terminals, making inquiries etc. Books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, audio-books etc went out in their hundreds of thousands.
All this happened despite less money being spent on the library. The staff are less knowledgeable than they once were. They tend to be casuals who can issue books and find the basics but more complex inquiries have to be referred - or they hope that someone like me will perhaps be around to help. I try not to mind too much because I think it is more important for a library user to have a positive experience.
Our "new books" shelf often looks pretty sparse too. At one time we knew that the beginning of the month would see a row of new fiction, a row of non-fiction and a row of children's material. The new fiction would include at least some of the books reviewed in the press, some crime and a variety of other titles designed to suit an equal variety of readers. The non-fiction would reflect the interests of the local community. The children's books would include any award winners but would also include local authors and a healthy variety of other writing.
Now it is very different. Central buying has gone from bad to worse. The aim appears to be to try and fill the shelves with quantity not quality. We will still get the Booker Prize winner on the shelf but, next to it, there will be pulp fiction which has been bought at remainder prices. The non-fiction is clearly remainder. Some of it may be lovely but it does not represent the the interests of library readers.
Children's selections suffer most of all. They are almost entirely paperback. There is some local content but much of it is cheap and second-rate.
Those responsible for central buying know they can get away with all this. Why?Because people want to read.
We are suffering from cut backs that are being disguised. Our libraries do need to be saved just as British libraries need to be saved. There libraries are under threat of closure. No library should ever face closure. Libraries should only suffer from lack of space, a need to expand, and more books on the shelves. Publishers should only suffer from excess profits due to the volume of sales.
Cutting back on libraries or even just library services is about the most foolish move any government can make. It is the child who reads a book that fires his or her imagination who is going to produce the next life-saving drug or build a more efficient power system, not the child who can play a computer game or who has been trained to kick a soccer ball to within an inch of his or her life. Oh yes, the last two things have their place but, in the overall scheme of things, they are less important than the power of imagination.
Just imagine a world without libraries. I think I might just head off and help save mine by using it.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

The really strange thing is, while libraries are closing in England, they are being refurbished in North Wales, which used to have a very poor reputation among the English for its educational stahdard

Talei said...

Miaow! Its definitely sad to hear that so many libraries are set to close. We're lucky at the moment, there's a couple of good local libraries that I can access if I need, and you can't beat that 'old skool' feeling when you borrow a book and get it stamped by a librarian. I still shudder if I'm overdue on books.

catdownunder said...

I wish other people felt the same way about overdue books - I have just been chasing the members of my knitting guild. (I have the misfortune to be the librarian.)
What puzzles me about the UK library issue is that the UK has always thought so highly of libraries...the first circulating library was in Scotland. The closures sound like the idea of civil servants who take their work home with them rather than the idea of MPs who, even given their limited intelligence, ought to be able to see the value of libraries.

Sheep Rustler said...

I am so fortunate to live in a relatively wealthy council area with a high level of education among the residents, so our libraries are quite well stocked and very well patronised. It makes my blood boil to think of any council slashing its library services.

Funnily enough, the best stocked local library outside of London that I came across in England was a tiny one, the size of a portable classroom, that got in every Booker prize shortlist and other literary stuff as well as more 'ordinary' stuff, and excellent non-fiction. Again, a high proportion of well-educated readers, I think.

Sadly, I have been hanging out for a job at my local library but vacancies are few and far between. I am more of an academic librarian and that is mostly what I am looking for. I used to really love academic libraries and can't wait to get back into it again.

Kath said...

As with most of the cuts we're suffering here in Upover, precious little thought seems to have gone into their long-term impact. All the government sees are the short-term headline-grabbing savings.

Libraries here in Wales have been rejuvenated in recent years and now form an important community centre that will be lost, if they're closed or their funding is cut any more than it already has been.

I can only see what's happening as a backward step. When I was a child, our home was full of books but I regularly took 4-5 books out at a time from our local library, until I had read pretty much every book. (It was a small village library.) I'm saddened that today and tomorrow's children won't have that same resource in their community.

Rachel Fenton said...

"Just imagine a world without libraries"...will it be the same as a school without teachers? Where you just sit your kid infront of a pc screen - pupil teach thyself...it's already happened there, Cat, what makes libraries any more sacred than the education of children?