Is it The End for libraries?

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

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  • Reply Knives January 24, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    I went to the CMK library for the first time in months at the weekend ( and I literally loved it. There were rows and rows of books there that I could take my pick from and they were all free! Plus there is a certain nostalgia tied up in libraries, the smell and the silence remind me of being a shy child looking for my next fantastical escape. I for one think it would be a tragedy to see libraries close their doors for the last time and I am completely behind the residents of Stony who have taken it upon themselves to make a stand. What difference it will make who knows but at least they’ll go down fighting for their right to read for free.

    I don’t think it’s the cost of a book as much as the mentality that you have to pay that would likely hold back a lot of people from reading if libraries do end up on the scrap heap. Watching the Jeremy Kyle show is enough to make you realise what a world without literary exposure is like and taking away that one opportunity for kids on the breadline to break out of the life they were born into and enter a different, exciting world and educate themselves to the place they want to be would be tragic.

    I think I also feel so strongly about this topic as at one point I was going to be librarian so I’d be facing the chop if I’d taken a different life route. Seems my idealism about the difference reading can make to a life persists still 🙂

  • Reply robynbateman January 24, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I 100 per cent agree with you. Even though I haven’t stepped inside a library for years (in this country at least) I know I’d absolutely love it. We nipped into the New York Public Library on honeymoon, such an amazing building! It made me feel all cosy and warm inside, the walls lined with books and those cool green lamps on desks and people burying themselves in reading or research. Libraries rock. However – and I say this with my very sensible head on, keeping my heart well and truly out of it – cuts inevitably have to be made to clear up the crap the Labour government left behind and libraries are not what I’d call a crucial service. Maybe supermarkets, community centres, schools or local businesses could pick up the slack and offer a similar sort of service as a library?

    On a personal note, I couldn’t ever imagine you staying quiet long enough to be a librarian ;0)

    • Reply mistressofmetaphor January 24, 2011 at 6:47 pm

      Funny enough that’s what everyone said to me when I told them my plans – hence, pretty much, why I decided against it! Haha.

      I hear what you’re saying, other services are more essential to survival, but the thought of no libraries depresses me – perhaps I could open up my own 🙂

  • Reply mistressofmetaphor January 24, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Funny enough that’s what everyone said to me when I told them my plans – hence, pretty much, why I decided against it! Haha.

    I hear what you’re saying, other services are more essential to survival, but the thought of no libraries depresses me – perhaps I could open up my own 🙂

  • Reply Paperbacks, kindles and a little bit of guilt « Robyn Bateman January 30, 2011 at 5:43 pm

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  • Reply Mel March 1, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    I don’t usually comment on blogs but had to because I totally disagree with your arguement. Yes, libraries might not be as essential as some of the others you mentioned, but i think your reasoning is flawed. You said that it is not a ‘crucial service’, but for who? You’ve covered yourself (and presumably people like yourself), the elderly and children. However you’ve missed some of the most important people -the vunerable, socially disconnected, and people with mental health issues.

    These are the people for whom the library service is ‘crucial’. Not for books, dvd’s, & internet (initially anyway), but for access to information and to human conversation. Libraries services may be replacable for some social groups, but what about people who haven’t got the confidence to go into a charity shop and choose a book, let alone talk to the staff? Or to ask someone where the job centre is, where they can find events for their children, or where to find a bus timetable. How are these people going to get started in finding what they need?

    Even if you hadn’t mentioned it, I think it’s clear you haven’t used a library in years. They aren’t just places to get a few books or use a computer. They are un-imposing, non-intimidating places that for many that I’ve witnessed while working are actually the only thing that gets them out of the house, and gives them the confidence to interact with people and information in the first place; something that we seem to take for granted.

    I’m not saying you’re alternatives for some library services aren’t realistic, because for a lot of us they are, but I would question your knowledge of libraries today, and the people who use them.

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