Due to the cutbacks, in Newport, Isle Of Wight, the local council are planning to close 9 libraries. Infuriated by this 'threat' the residents have organized a mass 'borrow'. They've gone to the libraries, and each taken out their maximum 30 books.
Apart from the fact that they have now saved the council the cost of having to pack up the libraries, and move the books, there is the obvious question. Do we need Libraries in the 21st century ?
How many of us have actually been into one in the last 12 months ? Apart, that is, for homeless people, students, school children or retired people who can't work the internet. Some exclusions. I know.
I haven't been in one for a couple of years, and I think, before then, it was even longer. I don't count walking round Cosham Library last year, trying to figure out if I could go there with my netbook, use their electricity, and sit there, undisturbed and write. Sadly, I didn't think that was something that I would be able to do there. Don't get me wrong, really love libraries. I really love the smell of all the old books, the excitement of going somewhere where there is just so much overwhelming choice, and you don't have to pay. There's something about it that takes me back to memories of my childhood, when my sister and I would go to the main library in Portsmouth, and spend hours trying to chose which books we would want to take home and read. All those trips to the North End Library, looking through the science fiction section. It was there that I got to read more Star Trek adventures, because this was the time before they started making the films, and the only Star Trek available was what we came call 'The Original Series' on BBC2. It is also where I discovered Arthur C Clarke. 'Islands In The Sky' being one that particularly jumps to mind.
Considering that the provision of all those freely accessible books and other media of research has somewhat been superseded by other means of sharing data these days, there is one thing that a Library provides that is actually more important now than ever. The peace and quiet.
Maybe it is as much the cheap and free availability of information off the internet that keeps us away from the Library. Maybe it is that the idea of just sitting, or looking round a place, where you can't talk, where there's no music allowed blaring with beat laden annoyance from someone else's so called personal headphones, no ring tones. Have we 'progressed' - if that is really the word to use - to the point where we can't even contemplate the idea ?
I'd love to take my daughter to the Library, but sadly, none are open on the day that I have her (Sunday - when I have her overnight on a Saturday, they close before we would be able to get there). Again, these things are the result of cuts in the provision of service. Although at the same time, I wouldn't expect the council to waste perfectly good money keeping open Portsmouth Central Library to times later into the night just on the off chance that I, or anyone else might suddenly feel the need to use it. You mean wade their way through the vomit coated streets, frequented by the hardly dressed and badly behaved idiots of Portsmouth ? No. Thank you.
Is it that they are not open when the people need them ? Maybe they are only open at the times that the few people that currently use them will need them. If they hope to attract new users, surely they need to open when those people need their services ?
There are many things provided by, and in Libraries these days. They are so much more than places that hold vast depositories of books. They have come to symbolize that concept in society, that the ability to learn more, to improve ones self is free to use. That knowledge is such an important thing to give to people, that we give it to them for free (at the point of use).
If you can get private hospitals, is there a market for private libraries ? Is there a gap for some sort of lending service, something along the lines of these postal DVD rental companies ? I wonder.
At the same time, there is surely a lot of overlap in the services currently provided. Maybe the libraries of schools, colleges or universities can be somehow incorporated so that the general population can use them. (Where relevant safeguards can be put in place). A lot of these resources are not used for a vast portion of the time. Books locked away, in the dark, where no one can see them, or be enlightened by them are a waste and a dreadful, dreadful shame.