My Mum is an avid reader, so much so that I can send her a book token for Birthdays or Christmas and guarantee she will be happy to head to Waterstone’s in Birmingham and hunt down a book. Conversations with her will usually touch on what she is currently reading. I was surprised over the holiday just passed that she didn’t have a book on the go so I recommended that she pop along to her local library and get a suggestion from the staff there. I was taken back when she said she hadn’t been to the library in ages and that there never seem to be any staff there anyway as its all self service. Are there are still staff at Solihull library? I would certainly hope so.
But, this statement coming from the person that used to take me to a library pretty much every week as a kid was bordering on shocking. It put me in mind of certain MPs who seem to think libraries are a product of a bygone age and are no longer necessary when people can buy books cheaply at Amazon or Tesco’s. Not only is such a statement so ridiculous that I’m not going to waste my time pointing out its faults and limitations, but it is completely misunderstanding the ethos of a public library.
This is, in case we have forgotten, a publicly owned collection of books and other media which can be borrowed by anyone at all within a public space open to all.
Looking back at the statement I have just typed it does seem incredibly radical, almost some kind of futuristic utopian dream. That libraries still exist in our current neo-liberal, corporatist era is incredible although our library services are being cut, closed down and threatened by the aforementioned economic forces.
This might be a good time to remind ourselves of what a brilliant concept a library is and to cherish and celebrate libraries. For me, one of the things I love about libraries is the contract of trust that exists between the library and the people that use them. Although a percentage of our stock goes missing, which is inevitable in a City with such a transient population, the vast majority of library users borrow and return stock ready for the next customer to benefit from that item. I would argue that far from being some kind of historical anachronism, libraries are in fact a great model of how societies can operate in times of increasing scarcity and austerity. In short, sharing with each other, creating public community space, offering information and support to all.
Jake – E-Services Manager, Jubilee Library