At the weekend, Children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman pointed out that 105 libraries have been closed or privatised over the past seventeen months, bringing the total to 347 under the care of the current UK Coalition Government. The continued influence of austerity measures are putting an estimated 400 more libraries at risk.
When I was about 15 or 16 my friend and I would spend hours perusing the shelves of the local library. Usually searching for ‘factual’ books about the occult and supernatural (we were into Ouija boards and horror movies in a big way then).
I loved the library. You could walk in, find a book on a seemingly endless array of subjects, get it stamped by a friendly librarian (avoiding the concerned gaze) and off you went. It was entirely free and you had reading material a plenty!
Through my A-levels and my later higher education I had a love-hate relationship with libraries. They were mostly associated with researching for long coursework pieces that I had invariably left to the last minute. I was often frustrated with finding myself at the end of a long waiting list for essential books with little or no hope of getting them before I finished my course, let alone in time to absorb the research for my piece on Theatre in the Round, the impacts of media on children, Freud’s thoughts on sexuality or the effects of tourism on developing countries… (I studied a wide range of subjects)
I didn’t spend much time, if any, in libraries for a few years after finishing my degree. A result of lack of time and a disposable income meant I bought the few books I had time to read.
Later e-readers and web searches replaced much of my library requirements.
But, like many parents, the library came back into it’s own with the birth of my daughter. Sing-along groups and book corners lured me back in on occasion, and, when my daughter started at school, I really rekindled my love for libraries.
Now we visit once a fortnight to max out her 12 book allowance with stories for me to read to her and others for her to read to me.
We have an endless supply of age-appropriate books for the cost of a slice of lemon drizzle cake (if she remembers about the cafe in the basement 😉 We never have to read the same book twice….not to say we don’t!
It’s more than just free books though. My 5 year old daughter has learnt about respect, she’s learnt to be quiet in libraries, and sometimes that’s meant controlling her enthusiasm or temper. She’s learnt about sharing books, and, perhaps strangely in a place where they are free, she’s learnt to value books. You don’t rip, throw or draw on library books…
She’s finding out about balancing reading with being read to and the ability to choose between this or that book. She takes an active role in working out which books are ‘too young’ or ‘too old’, and slowly, I’m teaching her not to judge a book by it’s cover…but more about that in the next blog 😀
She’s also learning about the value of a shared community resource, to borrow and share and appreciate that things can’t always be bought, and in some cases they don’t need to be.
We don’t make use of many of the other library facilities, being lucky enough to have a well tooled up home, but we’ve attended some of the best free-theatre children’s productions I’ve had the pleasure to see.
I understand that the country is feeling the pinch right now, but I strongly believe that closing down libraries would be a terrible own goal. Libraries are a valuable facility for so many people, for so many reasons, in so many ways.
At a time when disposable income is in short supply, surely having access to free books, music, videos, games, magazines, papers, internet access, performance art and many many other services provided by libraries, is essential, rather than a luxury we should be cutting.
Malorie Blackman said “Libraries switch children on to a love of reading, with all the ensuing benefits, and can make them lifelong readers. Without them, literacy may increasingly become the province of the lucky few, rather than the birth right of everyone.”
I couldn’t agree more. A love of reading proceeds and facilitates a love of learning, and knowledge is, after all, power. It should absolutely not be confined to those who have enough spare cash to ‘splash’ out on books.
I’m lucky, my local county library was opened only last year and it’s fabulous. But I will fight tooth and claw if anyone considers closing down our local one. I hope that more and more people start to use this essential community facility.
I’ll be the one buried under a pile of picture books!