Saturday, 5 February 2011

A Wodehouse inspired idea to raise money to support libraries

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

After my last post on saving libraries, I have just had an idea.

I have recently listened to a podcast reading of P.G. Wodehouse's "Jeeves and the Hard-Boiled Egg." In this story, Bertie is in New York and is visited by a friend in dire financial need, Bicky. Bicky is reliant on an allowance from a miserly uncle, the Duke of Chiswick, and he is facing the withdrawal of his funds. Jeeves comes up with the idea of charging a group of luminaries from Birdsburg for the chance to shake hands with a genuine Duke.

This, combined with my idea in the last post that I would rather money be spent on libraries rather than the civil list, has given me an idea. One of the primary justifications for the existence of the monarchy in this country is the revenue from tourism. Why not take it further? If people visit London to see Buckingham Palace or to see the Changing of the Guard, maybe we could also offer them the chance to meet or shake hands with a minor royal for a fee (becoming more expensive, the closer in line to the throne)? The income from this could either be used to replace the civil list and become self-supporting, or else this income could be diverted to support other aspects of British culture (such as libraries).

In P.G. Wodehouse's story Jeeves' idea is not a success, but I think that this could work. I might now have to try and come up with other solutions inspired by great works of literature....

Save our Libraries Day

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I have just read a blog by a friend, Annalisa, about the campaign to save libraries from the cuts that they are facing. Her blog made me think more about my own position on this.

I can't not support save libraries, and I won't pretend to be unbiased. My joint honours degree was in English and Information and Library Studies. I have done work experience in libraries and I have worked in an academic library. I no longer work in a library, but I can't quite get over my librarian instincts to move a book that has been put in the wrong place. There is a bit of me that comes back to feeling like I belong working in a library - although this might not be the right time for a career change back to librarian.

One of my earliest memories of childhood is late night shopping in Plymouth on Thursdays with my parents, and going to the library. I loved these trips to Plymouth; Dad used to go to the local history library to research our family history, and I would head to the shelves on legends and read Dartmoor ghost stories. A few years ago I had a dream in which there was a large stained glass window of literary figures - Shakespeare, Chaucer etc - and it was only a long time afterwards that I realised that this was the window in Plymouth library.

I am self-aware enough to realise that my reasons for wanting to save libraries are primarily selfish - I visit my local library at least once a week. One of my book geek pleasures is to scour the Waterstones Magazine for ideas, and then raid the library with my reading list. On Save our Libraries Day I have taken my library card to its limit - although I have to admit that this was more due to a miscount than a deliberate political statement.

I can totally see Annalisa's point that there are other vital services that are deserving of money. However, this point implies the trust that money taken from libraries will be spent in worthy ways. I don't have this much faith in politicians - it seems far more likely to me that this might be spent on expensive wallpaper, moat cleaning or duck islands (although I bear ducks no ill-will), or a fire service call centre that will never be used (all these have happened). Instead of taking money from libraries, maybe politicians could have slightly smaller salaries; maybe ex prime ministers should not be entitled to such a big pension (with Tony Blair's fees for public speaking, I shouldn't think he is that desperately in need of money); maybe they could tax the banks with the Robin Hood Tax that has been suggested....surely there are other options for saving money that should be explored. Our government is notoriously wasteful. This might be controversial, but I would rather have libraries than I would an extensive civil list to support the monarchy and all their distant relatives.

I believe that libraries are an important part of the community. They aren't just a place to borrow fiction - which is largely what I do - but they are an important meeting place, source of community information, technology resource and source of information in general. We place great value on our health service, but I think we should also place great value on our intellectual and cultural health. I fear for our future if children no longer have access to such a resource and instead get all their information from Wikipedia....