Today seems to be the day: people all over the country are (I hope) turning out to support their local library. We are lucky here in North Hertfordshire: Letchworth Garden City Library seems to have escaped the axe (for now). Nevertheless, I will go along today and see if anything is going on that needs supporting.
The whole situation has raised interesting arguments. On the one hand it seems obvious: Of course libraries should not close. On the other hand, the country is (apparently) so short of money that something has got to give. Why it has to be mainly artistic and literary pursuits I don't understand... or maybe I do a little. When I was growing up and dreaming of being an artist (bear with me; this applies to writers too), there were those who told me that such a profession was a self-indulgence. It was not a real job; a living could not be made from it. I was told often by relatives and even teachers that it should remain a hobby. Of course that made me more determined to stick with it.
But the point here is that this is a view that persists. That writers and artists: those who document civilisation, those who challange and inspire, those who comment and cause controversy, discussion, debate, those who guide us, warn us, entertain and enlighten us, those who (mostly) work so hard for so little... are in some way a waste of space.
Obviously that offends me. I've often said that I have much pride in the being part of an industry (horrid word) of such long standing integrity. What a tradition of art, music and literature belongs to this land! We are all, in this community, superb international ambassadors for our country. What we contribute is woefully underappreciated compared to the sickening adulation of "celebrity" in this age.
Cutting libraries threatens the livelihoods of writers (less PLR; fewer books sold to libraries); it threatens publishers; it reduces the opportunities for the next generation because it chips away at what civilisation should be about. And the dumbing down of society - the X-factor / Saturday night TV culture - continues apace.
Some are saying, don't close libraries, change them - make them digital. Actually libraries have been changing for years and it's been their downfall. They have alienated people like me who go there for a humble book and have to fight past DVDs, CDs, computers etc. The range of books seems to have become ever more narrow.
Is digitilisation the answer? At the moment, the rare, obsure and funny little books that I delight in finding on shelves are not available digitally. Indeed none of the books I myself have created over the last 22 years is digitalised either. I doubt many will ever be revived in a digital format. So I'm not convinced.
I can see the value for reference books - easy to update. Even fiction could work if the Kindle is your cup of tea (it's not mine; I hate the split-second blank screen you get when you scroll down). But it will never be the practical answer for children's books, unless you are a Yummy Mummy in Kensington and have an Ipad for your 3 year old.
Most of the families I meet in schools simply wouldn't prioritise money for that sort of thing; and if they did I don't believe their children would use such a console for reading. Removing libraries can only make that trend worse rather than better...
There are also all the old sentimental arguments: you can't press flowers in a digital book. You can't lend it, give it as a gift, inscribe it or get it autographed. But they are good arguments, and I for one resent having the digital revolution FORCED upon me. In a free world, I want the right to choose a book over a console.
It seems to me that in a truly civislised world, there shouldn't be any discussion about money for libraries. Whether libraries make or lose money is beside the point. In a decent society, libraries, knowledge, books, and information should be available to all. Education - of all ages - is the only way we will survive. With ignorance comes darkness and danger.
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