Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Leadhills Miners' Library

was built in 1741 and it is the oldest subscription library in Britain. I found that information quite by accident in a book yesterday and checked it a short while ago.
Now if anyone doubts the importance and influence of libraries they should be sent straight to that fact. The men who used that library were miners. They spent their shifts underground or in the smelting works in appallingly unsafe conditions and then returned to the surface or from the furnaces determined to read. They must have been physically exhausted but their determination to "better themselves" are recorded for anyone to see. Only the minister and the schoolmaster were not miners or smelting workers. I have little doubt that they "guided" the reading of the other men and perhaps chose the books placed on the shelves but it was a library and, in a small mining community, it must have been a treasured resource.
It was a subscription library too. It was not "free". Money would have been incredibly short. To actually pay to read a book showed even greater determination.
I wonder what would happen if all libraries were subscription libraries. It is perhaps tempting to suggest that people would simply cease to use libraries, that they would use the internet and watch television instead of read. But would they?
I do not think people would cease to use libraries. I may be wrong but I believe the need to read is so strong in some people that they would forego a great deal in order to go on reading. That said I still believe we should have free public libraries and that they should be part of the services we receive for paying taxes or serving the community in other ways.
Libraries are an essential part of our existence. The internet is not enough. Being able to buy books in one form or another is not enough.
In libraries we read what our family, friends and neighbours are reading. Libraries allow us to make sense of the world around us. We will not read everything in the library. Some people will read much. Others will read little or even not at all. There will however be enough people who read and read in common that society can continue to exist and move forward. Libraries are about our shared culture - and about being aware of that through reading what each other is reading.


Ann said...

I love libraries. They have an atmosphere conducive to reading and learning. What a great story about the miners.

catdownunder said...

Extraordinary really - naughtily I did wonder if their wives were also allowed to read the books!
Scotland has a long tradition of public education but the library story was so interesting I had to share it!

Anonymous said...

Life would be quite different for me if I didn't have a library. I rely on it for books, children's books, music, movies, magazines, everything! It's something I hope I don't ever take for granted. And one of my fave things is going to a strange library in a new town. Some people like malls. I like libraries.