Saturday, 5 February 2011

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....


  1. Having also worked in a library for almost 15 years until recently, I can say that I probably feel most at home in them, so my current feelings might seem askew! It's not my understanding the money will be used anywhere else, but simply not used at all. If you had a £10 overdraft that needed paying, would you buy a book and make yourself more so, or not buy a book and get back to black? (Maybe this just shows up my lack of political understanding, I don't know!)

  2. I totally get your point. My thinking has been though that if you don't waste the money - if you put up with having a claggy moat, if your ducks make do without an island, if you pay politicians a bit less - then you don't have to cut money for libraries. Maybe you can afford a book if you haven't been to the pub at the weekend, or if you don't leave the lights on or the TV on standby all the time.

  3. Just slightly off point - mostly because I was going to start another 'I understand your point' reply - has anyone thought what would happen to all these wonderful civic owned buildings that house the libraries? Will they just be allowed to fall into disrepair, therefore costing the taxpayer money in the future?