Libraries have been a vital part of my life since I was a tiny child, and I’m always saddened when I read about writers who say libraries are dead, and act like they couldn’t give a shit. My most recent heartbreak was while reading an interview with Will Self in Writing Magazine. He basically said that ‘it’s over for libraries’ and ‘communities should look for another focus…’ That is bullshit. It’s vital that communities preserve their libraries, or build new ones. I think people forget that not everyone reads off screens. I believe that it’s vital people learn to put down their phones and tablets, and pick up something printed instead. Our concentration levels are decreasing dramatically, and, if we want a hope in hell of being able to read something longer than a Tweet in a few years, we need to get back to basics, i.e. printed books.
One of my greatest pleasures in life is going to the library. I’ll take a trip to the library over a night at the pub any day. It’s the biggest thrill discovering a new author, or picking up a book which was specially ordered in for me. (Yes, libraries still do that…well, to the best of my knowledge.) I love the fact that I can explore the written world without having to drain my limited finances. When I was little, we were broke, so the library was an absolutely essential part of our everyday lives. When I wasn’t in school, one of the places you could be sure to find me was the library. It was a home from home.
Poverty still exists in the UK, and struggling families still need the services libraries provide. Our current government is hell bent on stripping the arts down to its bones, and doesn’t give a flying fuck about families who want (and often need) to get their children’s reading material on loan, or who would like their kids to get involved in activities over the holidays and at weekends. That’s not to mention Britain’s elderly, many of whom see a trip to the library as the highlight of their week. Or the students who need research material and study spaces. Or the young people who don’t give a damn about drink or drugs or Instagram, and who just want to spend their free time reading an actual book.
I was visiting my boyfriend in Canada recently, and I was insanely excited about going to visit his local library. Unlike ours, which are all turning into libraries/community information services, the library in Cornwall, Ontario was a glorious hark back to the olden days. It was enormous, stocked to the rafters and, get this, it was quiet. There was a handful of DVDs and CDs and a few computers, but books were the dominant species, as it should be. I was blissed out and didn’t want to leave.
The library in my town has recently closed. It’s been a fixture for decades. I spent many, many hours there not only looking for books, but using their computers and printer, writing novels/poems, studying for school/college/university and, eventually, holding writing workshops. It’s not the end of free reading in Billingham though, because a new library is opening in January. Sadly, it will be attached to a community information center i.e. where you go to pay your council tax. It won’t be quiet and there will probably be more computers than books, but it’s better than nothing. I saw new books on the new shelves the other day, and my heart started beating doubly fast. I just hope that when I walk in there on the 5th of January there will be the employees from library which closed. I know that many councils are being pressed by government to take on volunteers instead of keeping on fully qualified librarians which, in my opinion, is just fucking stupid.
I was walking home from town the other day and overheard a little boy – he must have been about seven – say to his dad ‘Dad, is the library finished yet?’ That made my week. You see, I’m not the only one.