Tuesday 18 January 2011

Save Our Libraries

There has been a lot of talk on the Internet of late about plans in the UK to close many public libraries as their latest idea for saving money. Other people clearly feel the same way, if the #savelibraries hashtag on Twitter is anything to go by. Personally, I'm absolutely horrified at the idea - of all the things that the government pays for, libraries should be LAST on their list of things to cut.

But it's easy, isn't it? Snip a little here, snip a little there, and hope that all your small savings add up enough to take a chunk out of the overall deficit. Trouble is, in the end, it costs more money than it saves due to the losses incurred as a result of the cuts. As my dad says, it's like removing your doors to save on the cost of paint, while leaving your house wide open to burglars. Look at it any way you like, but the UK is a country with a colossal budget for foreign aid, yet we have children within its borders living below the poverty line - children who will lose their access to free information and the chance to expand their knowledge if the libraries are closed to save a few pounds.

In a country where education league tables are everything, where the Building Schools for the Future initiative has been halted and pupils are taught in crumbling relics of the 1960s, surely we should be preserving these last bastions of free knowledge. There was an outcry when the government proposed it would cut a service aimed at providing free books, and it relented, allowing the scheme to continue. Yet closing libraries denies access to free books on a much wider scale. Books aren't cheap to buy, but if you have access to a library, you have access to an entire world of literature, not to mention general knowledge. A library is warm, dry - and keeps a young person off the streets for the day.

In his foreword to Fahrenheit 451, author Ray Bradbury advocates the existence of libraries, since in the absence of a formal education, he taught himself the things he wanted to know in his local library. Who is to say that children all over the country aren't doing the exact same thing? Of course, they won't be able to, if there is nowhere for them to go. Libraries are often the only means some people have of accessing the Internet, and if the library goes, then you cut away the resources the Internet has to offer for those who cannot afford it in their own homes.

I'm lucky, I live in a London borough with six libraries, and only one is threatened with closure. The library in question is in a position where it may be saved, by being turned into a new community facility which would incorporate the Citizens Advice Bureau, family learning courses run by a local college, and even church youth work - hopefully, this proposal will meet with success. Mayor Boris Johnson has also announced plans to set up a trust to run those libraries unable to fund themselves - it's a pity the rest of his party cannot have the foresight to do the same on a national level.

I'm also lucky in that I can afford to buy books, and have the Internet at home. Many don't have this option, and it is on their behalf that I ask everyone to join in the campaign at their local library to ensure we keep these institutions going, for the good of everyone.

(Please read author Emma Newman's post on the same topic - she puts it across far better than me)


Sam said...

The thought of libraries closing deeply saddens me. I am lucky to live in a town with half a dozen branch libraries and one main library, and where cuts haven't been mooted yet, though how long this will last I'm not sure.

I agree wholeheartedly with your arguments. From a personal perspective, as a mobilty-impaired person, my local branch library is an invaluable resource, not only for the books and information it contains, but also for the librarians' collective store of knowledge. I am also a great fan of the inter-library loan service.

My local library always seems busy when I visit. As well as readers and internet users it hosts among other things, several clubs and societies, and runs a homework club several nights a week.

It would be a sad day indeed to see it under threat. I really feel for those for whom library cuts are imminent, or have already happened.

Anonymous said...

Living in the USA, we're facing similar difficulties. First the Arts in schools and now the libraries. It's simply unbelievable what is considered "extra fat" to be cut from a budget. A budget which is, as you pointed out, heavily laden with funds set aside for foreign aid and, in our case, a defense system gone awry. People eager to put "our children are our future" in their speeches are too eager to chip away at the future of those very children. Thanks for this post, you really got to the heart of it.

Take care,

Anonymous said...

Such cultural insensitivity is heartbreaking. As a teacher I can see the educational landscape changing, but it should not be at the expense of children.
Adam B @revhappiness

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