We all know 2011 is the year of cuts, cuts and more cuts; we hear about it on the news approximately five times a day. To be honest, the news is so depressing at the moment it’s a wonder we haven’t all topped ourselves.
Anyhoo, less about death, more about libraries… the public sector is facing some touch choices as the money pots dry up and one such service under threat is that of pubic libraries. Stony Stratford Library, for example, is being targeted for closure and members have made their mark by each withdrawing 15 books and literally emptying the shelves in the Wot No Books campaign. A wicked way to get your point across! There’s also a petition in our local chippy against the closure of what would be my local library, if we used it.
Now then. I’m a huge fan of books and reading and think it’s important for anyone and everyone to have access to them. And libraries, most of them, now offer more than just a free read – DVD rental, computer and printing services, research archives, children’s storybook sessions, crafts etc. But these are all things we can get elsewhere. Are they a “crucial service“? I think not.
I remember visiting the library with my mum when I was a kid and getting so excited that we could choose books and take them home for free as long as we promised to bring them back. And I liked the eery quietness of the place. Fast forward 20 years and I was using the library again, this time in Coalville, Leicestershire. I lived over the road from the library and with no phone line or internet connection in my flat I used the library a lot to conduct my online affairs. I browsed the books and DVDs while I was there and generally liked the peaceful atmosphere.
Another five years later and I haven’t stepped foot in a library for all that time. I have internet connection at home, access to films through BT Vision or I pick them up dead cheap in Asda, there are so many places offering copying and printing services and books I buy via Amazon, either in paperback or eBooks, or I borrow them from my friends. Charity shops are also brilliant for picking up books by top authors for as little as 10p per copy.
So, while libraries offer a great service and one I’d like to think we still need, we actually don’t. They don’t offer anything we can’t get elsewhere. And with most of us already accessing these things via the internet, for those who don’t and can’t – I’m thinking young children and the elderly here – charity shops, car boot sales or fetes offer a great way of picking up books and movies dirt cheap. Not free, but cheap.
And what about starting a book swap scheme in your local area? I have so many books on my shelf and I’ll never throw them out, it’s a record of pretty much everything I’ve ever read and I want it on show. But I’d be more than happy for people to borrow them or swap for books I haven’t read. And for those who need internet access to look for jobs etc, libraries do come in handy, but there are internet cafes out there too.
The country is facing some tough times and deep cuts – as we’re told over and over – have to be made. But I’d rather my taxpayers’ money went on services we really do need and use, like healthcare, support for parents of disabled children, improving public transport etc; not on providing a service that most of us could find somewhere else.
Don’t get me wrong, seeing libraries disappear will be a sad, sad thing, the end of an era. But times are changing and we have to accept that as we move on in life, the services we use and need to use will change too.
Picture of empty bookshelves by Andy Roberts