A few months ago I had lunch with an old schoolfriend who happens to be a librarian. We see each other rarely, but almost as soon as we sat down at the table she was keen to ask me whether I use my local library.
The answer was yes, but in a different way to a few years ago. We are lucky to have a very local library which is small, but modern, cosy and well-stocked, particularly in comparison to a larger library further down the road which I've always found somewhat uninspiring. I enjoy going to our library to read and research, but I realised that it is so long since I borrowed a book that I'm not even sure where my library card is. I tried to justify why this might be.
I think I stopped borrowing fiction when son 2 was small, when he had an uncontrollable compulsion to tear up any books and I had difficulty snatching even a moment to read due to his challenging behaviour. Another reason is that for many years our income was good enough to be able to buy books without really thinking twice. As I tended to purchase faster than I can read, the stockpile of paperbacks will keep me going in these more difficult times. And now, of course, I have a Kindle and I am buying books for that.
But I've continued to use the library as a place to work for a couple of hours when I need to get out of the house, a place to research or just to sit and read, especially children's fiction now my own boys are grown up. I love that the library offers not only books but also internet access to those who do not have them. My elderly father, who will probably never have a computer at home, has recently put his name down for a computer course at his local library. He just wants to be able to occasionally look things up on the internet in the library, where help is at hand for a technophobe.
Libraries are still a valuable resource, even if their services sometimes seem to need a little tweaking to keep up with changing communities and times. Whilst waiting for an appointment I recently spent a few minutes in another branch, situated in a community centre alongside a cafe run by people with learning disabilities. Easy access to a library and food and drink. What more could you ask?
So when I just read this post by Nicola Morgan I found myself nodding in agreement. We need libraries to give equal access to learning and culture. We need them to help encourage our young children to read through their activity sessions and to provide a space for older children to do their homework in peace. We need libraries to provide large-print and audiobooks for the disabled. We need them to serve whole communities, perhaps linked in somehow with the teaching of English as a second language. We need them to broaden our own reading horizons.
There have been a lot of (often justified) complaints about the state of literacy and education in this country. How on earth is closing libraries going to help?
(For anyone who knows where I live, I'm not aware of any planned library closures here, they seem to be cutting library staff jobs instead by increasing automation. But a neighbouring borough is apparently due to close up to 50% of its libraries and it is a nationwide issue.)