Today I spent a few minutes on the phone with a nice lady from the Library. Not unusual, I’ve phoned the library before in search of books, but this time was different. Apparently book buying has been ‘paused’ in most of Birmingham’s public libraries because of cuts in their funding, and so they are appealing for books published in the last year to be donated. (Here’s a link to the BBC news report )
There was quite a furore when the news broke. Although I understand the view that donating books may only serve to validate cuts in the long term, I can’t subscribe to it. The library service has been a friend to me for a long time now, and at the moment it’s a friend in need. If I can help out, I will.
Here in London it’s the same story. Libraries are closing, and those which survive are struggling. It’s a complicated issue. Should volunteers be used, to replace trained librarians? Should the way libraries operate be changed? Should library services take precedence over other social services?
Well, politics isn’t in my remit. But it makes me sad to see that some of the libraries that I used as a child are now threatened with closure. They were, and still are, places that held a great deal of magic. And in my opinion, they perform a vital public service. It’s true that library borrowing has fallen in the last ten years, but surely the answer to that is to encourage people to use our libraries more, not close them down.
But in a world of internet access and e-books, are libraries really still needed? I’d say yes. In the UK in 2013 the E-Learning Foundation estimated that 750,000 children of school age didn’t have an internet connection at home. That number dwindles yearly, but there will always be students who depend on the library for internet services and books. There are many different sections of the community who rely on the library – those who need to read in large print format for example, or those who can’t afford to buy books.
And visiting the library is not just a matter of need. I have internet access and am lucky enough to be able to buy books, but the library is still valuable to me. A place where I can browse and enjoy, try new authors, or find specialist books. And since I’ve become a writer I’ve had the immense privilege of seeing my own books in the library. So I’ve joined the campaign to support my local libraries in whatever way I can.
I’ll end with an apology, because I imagine that anyone taking the time to read this blog really doesn’t need to be told how valuable our libraries are! But please bear with me, because today, I really need to say this one thing. I love my library.