I have been perplexed by the recent threat to public libraries. The arguments on both sides are complex in the internet age. I’ve finally clarified my thoughts which I’m now happy to share in the text below and the accompanying video. Feel free to embed the video on your site – instructions here.
Support your Local Library – The Pillar of Civilisation
I don’t get this country sometimes. As an island nation in a cruel, new, worldwide economic environment, we are in peril.
Our future relies on the imagination of our people. The future will be dominated by the intelligent and the imaginative. That is where profits will come from.
So what do we do in a time of short term political stress? Obvious… go for the short-term easy option – as always. Let’s cut the libraries.
Great Britain became great for many reasons, but I would hazard to suggest that universal education was the main reason.
The real driving power of the industrial revolution was the autodidact, the man who wanted to better himself and move up. How did he do this? He went to the library or the worker’s reading rooms and taught himself. That is the British way – that is the British genius that has kept us “punching above our weight” all these years.
Andrew Carnegie, the richest man that ever lived, understood this. He was that self-made man. He knew what it took to make it in this world, and far from pulling the ladder up behind him as our politicians propose now, he bestowed thousands of libraries to provide a place of learning for those who would follow him in self-reliance, determination and all the other qualities needed in The Big Society.
So now, at what is probably our hour of greatest need, what do we do? We start closing down public libraries!
I admit, there are so many good accounting reasons to do this. You can massage the figures anyway you like, but leadership is not about accounting. A great leader listens to his advisers and makes brave, visionary decisions. Any leader who follows the obvious advice of accountant is just a manager – not a leader.
My mind has been in turmoil over the issue of public libraries in the current economic situation. The internet has changed everything. It is cheaper to ask library users to order their books from Amazon and keep them, rather than pay for a library and its staff.
But a library is so much more that a pile of books or bricks. At its best it is the heart of the community and the centre of life-long learning. With the rapid pace of change, life-long learning is something we will all have to get used to, and the Library is the perfect place to go for the information that we need.
People of my generation are obsessed with books and paper. Kids really couldn’t care what form their information comes in. They have no loyalty to paper or books. If they weren’t told to read books because they are a “good thing”, they wouldn’t.
I find that scary – I make my living selling books. I know I and all authors have a very scary but exciting ride ahead. The times they are a’changing.
Forget books. They are not the point – it is what is in the books that counts. All that information needs filtering, storing and organising, and that’s where libraries and librarians come in.
Libraries have changed a lot since I was a kid and I think they have a long way to go yet. In fact, I think the role of the public library will always keep changing. But a public library’s core business is knowledge and information.
Maybe those in power want to keep us in ignorance? I don’t believe that’s so. I tend to go for the cock-up theory of politics. Keeping us in ignorance will lead to a “Fourth World” future. Post-industrial, bankrupt and only fit to make cheap plastic goods or decontaminate the waste of the rest of the world.
Our future lies in motivated, educated citizens and the library should be at the heart of their lives. Teaching them the stuff they need to know to keep this country at the forefront of the information revolution.
Librarians may well be stereotyped as quiet, tea-drinking cat-lovers who will go meekly when presented a P45, but in reality they are the guardians of our knowledge, our history and everything that has got us to where we are and where we shall go.
Sir Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” And so our vision of the future is only possible because we stand on the shoulders of those that have come before. Their legacy is kept and guarded by libraries and librarians.
Librarians are priceless and so is the service they provide and so are the buildings they work in.
We need to have a discussion about their future and our future, but there is no point having that discussion if the buildings and the people who know how to handle information have gone.
At the moment, the Library is there for children who need to read books, They need to read lots of them repeatedly. Wonder why literacy levels are falling? Literacy is not about school records or results. Literacy comes from reading lots of books. It takes a lot of practice to get good at reading. Reading books may be seen as entertainment, but if a book is not entertaining why would a child want to read it? Literacy comes from reading entertaining books. Fact. Get over it!
Oh! And let’s not forget the home schoolers and the sick. And story time and toddler’s groups and craft sessions. Libraries are as much a part of our children’s education as schools are. In some case maybe more. The library is where you go when school’s out or it doesn’t teach what you need to know.
And what of older people once they have switched the telly off? There’s not a lot on the box for them. The Library is there not only to borrow books from, but it’s a meeting place and source of information.
The library is often where older people discover and use the internet. How confused are you by your computer? Can you imagine being eighty and trying to get to grips with one on your own? Libraries provide computers that work and don’t need to be fiddled with all the time.
And the computers are there for everyone else too. Information at your fingertips in the information age, with Librarians there to help you find what you want. Yes, computers are cheap and easy to get hold of now, but they are no easier to maintain. How many people have a computer sitting in their front room, unused because it won’t start up and no one knows what to do with it? Millions probably.
And what of all those people out working all day? The ones who earn the money to pay the council tax, who complain about the expense of the libraries?
Well, maybe we need to re-examine opening hours. Maybe we need to examine what those people want and need from libraries.
Maybe more evening book groups, special interest groups, more adult education.
Maybe this is where the Big Society comes in, local lectures on any subject under the sun, passing on information, making connections in the community, building new groups and businesses, the library as the human/person/body/real-life meeting place of the faceless, FaceBook generation.
I know that libraries are going to go through massive change in the next few years. I’ve met one or two young librarians who are champing at the bit, with visions of entirely digital libraries, free of the weight of paper and dusty shelves.
There is an amazing future ahead for public libraries, at the heart of our communities and at the heart of the life-long learning and self -improvement we will have to invest in for the sake of the country’s future.
But if you take away the very pillars of civilisation don’t besurprised if everything comes crashing down on you!
Take libraries away and they will never come back and soon the dark shadow of a post industrial wasteland will descend upon this once great nation.
We can rise again and lead the world into the next historic revolution, but not without our libraries..