Alexander Averin

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Libraries Change Lives

This will be the first of many posts about libraries and the fight to save them.  

Support your Local Library – The Pillar of Civilisation

These are the words of Shoo Rayner, a very popular children's author and illustrator.
I tried very hard to embed a copy of his video (with his permission) but to no avail. It can be found here should you wish to view him speaking. However I am able to copy the words below.

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..

Shoo Rayner


Kath said...

Wejust got the wonderful news that our library here in Glaston has been saved from closure by "people power".There have been public meetings, petitions and opinion surveys, which caused our council to do a turnaround. I would say to anyone whose library faces closure,do not give up, fight it all the way.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Bravo. It is amazing to me that the first things governments reach for when slashing their budgets are nature and the arts. Libraries, and forests, are vital to the health of a nation. Here, we feel fortunate to have the only city owned library in our state, a very good one, within walking distance. Yes, I buy books.... lots and lots of them.... but I'm a regular face in my library as well. There is something quite delicious about cracking open a library book, and wondering who has read it before you. It reminds me of my childhood, when I was an avid library goer, thanks to my mother.
Here's hoping wiser heads prevail with that red pen.

Norma Murray said...

Cait, I'm glad to say our library is safe for the time being. I checked with the librarians yesterday and, although they've all lost hours, there are no plans for a full closure as yet. I can assure you my placard will be painted should the need arise.

Laura said...

It is the same here in the U.S. where I am living right now. The libraries and schools are the first to suffer and I have always been more than amazed by it. To create ignorance would not be my way to "fix things" and it's obvious that there has been no positive outcome of it in the past, but yet the nonsense continues. Then the cuts go on to police and rescue, another thing we need most. Odd and it makes me want to run for the hills!

Fennie said...

My heart is with you Cait; but... why do I hesitate? It's this simpering little doubt that in all our protests we are trying to turn back the clock to the time we were children, the age before the digital revolution. No one is saying that there will not continue to be libraries to organise knowledge - the National Libraries are a case in point. I don't want our local library to close - but when did I last visit it? The internet, the charity shop, Amazon, our local bookshop are now my libraries. I feel a bit hypocritical supporting something that I don't personally use. What would draw me back, I wonder? Still it is really tough on those in the library profession. And sad too. My heart is with you, as I said.

Marion Williams-Bennett said...

Libraries are so important for all of us!

We face the same thing in America, libraries closing or scaling back their hours as way of saving money. It's so wrong and so shortsighted. The the people who are impacted by this are the ones who can least afford it - both intellectually and financially.

Keep up the good fight and good luck!

annechung said...

I couldn't agree with you more. My life was due to a very humble library in the jungles of Borneo. Somehow the Brits who ruled us then had the wisdom to put in a little library. From reading Noddy to the French revolution, I began to yearn for greater things and was able to emigrate to the USA. Today I have my own library at home. I spare no expense to obtain books that enhances my life. I've been to Cairo, to Morocco, to Turkey, I lament that they don't put enough emphasis on reading and on demanding a library in their community.

Cait O'Connor said...

Dear Fennie, I always respect your opinion but for once I think you are wrong.

Do you really think that we should only support public services because we use them and stop doing so when we no longer do so? We hope not to use certain public services like the police, fire, ambulance etc etc but they are a vital support system for all. We may not always have children but we support their education throughout our lives. Social services are another case in point. I could go on.

Where I work we have no charity shops or bookshops locally. A lot of library users are retired, infirm or are very young. In Wales most folk are low paid and could not afford to buy books or travel miles to do so and not everyone is able to afford or use computers. Indeed libraries are the place where many folk learn to use computers and are then able to use the ones provided free of charge.

The library is a community centre where people meet and mix. It is attached to the local primary school. There is a reading group and a writing group, people join as babies and are introduced to the wonderful world of literature and God willing they become hooked. Where else would they be able to peruse and borrow books for free from babyhood to the end of life?

The digital age is fine as long as we have electricity, just see how it crumbles when there is a power cut. Just wait until cyber terrorism becomes a reality.

I am not fighting for librarians I am fighting for libraries. I suggest you visit your local library and you will see just how much goes on there nowadays.

PS Not a lot of people know that the UK has given vast sums of money to Pakistan to help them set up libraries and yet they want to close our own. It is an ideological decision much like the plan to sell off our woodlands. Polite words fail me....I had better stop......

Bee said...

You are preaching to the choir, as far as I am concerned. I am completely and utterly in agreement with you -- and I found your impassioned defence (in the comments) to be as useful and persuasive as the article that you shared.

Frances said...

Cait, I so agree with you.

Keeping libraries open and accessible to all means that anyone has access to any word ever written. It is a passageway to knowlege, a way to create curiosity, to follow that curiosity, to share information and culture with friends and families.

Libraries are a gift.

When I daily ride on the New York City subway system, I always see folks reading books, newspapers, magagines, electronic books. In many languages.

I also see many folks with earplugs in their ears. Earplugs attached via wires to little rectangular devices that might let them play games, listen to music, send and receive messages.

Ten years ago, there were more books, newspapers, magazines. Something is changing. I so hope that libraries will be able to keep their treasures going while also adapting as needed to the changes of our new century.

I am reminded of school lessons about how in past centuries written words were preserved, because enough folks thought those words worth preserving.


Vee said...

I'm sorry that this is going on and hope that like Kath's community, other libraries will be saved from closing by the power of the people. This piece makes me want to visit my libray tomorrow. Sometimes I do that to sit by the window that overlooks the river and just read in the delicious quiet of it all. (My library is closing actually. It's no longer going to be housed in its home by the river. It's going to the third story of a former high school. I worry about that. I worry that older people will not be able to climb all those stairs. Maybe it's time to get some people power going here.)

Mark said...

I'll comment on this later, meanwhile re your comment at mine - how strange that we should like so many of the same books. I saw Brain Keenan on the TV the other night and I talked to Jane about his book - can you remember its name I asked; An Evil Cradling. It is in a different league to the McCarthy / Morell book. In fact I recall it as one of the best books of that type I've read.

Posie said...

I have always loved libraries and found them such a great source of inspiration and a great place to study and learn (when I was doing my A levels and then my degree). I really missed having a library to go and work in when I first came here, but we have a fantastic mobile library which parks once a fortnight outside my door....

Mark said...

Support for our libraries is vital and in the scheme of things they do not cost a great deal. I'd cerrtianly like to see the book budgets protected, even if some efficiencies have to be made within the overall service.

But I also agree with the article that Libraries could do more - in fact I'd say there is big case for 'ivesting to save' in that by providing agood service they will relive pressure elsewhere. Our local library, to be honest, is pretty poor at all those extra meetings and services that would help to bring it alive - and I'm sure it's largey due to poor resources - certainly the staff want to do more and want to encourage the service, but are frustrated by lack of funds.

Tom Foolery said...

Great post TFxx

Marian said...

A library is so much more than the books and the building. I can't imagine living in a place without a library nearby. I agree....libraries are priceless.

Kath said...

I should have said that our library also houses the Citizens advice bureau, an internet cafe and our Antiquarian society. I spoke to our Librarian today and she said they will know on 16th how the opening times will be reduced and if there will be redundancies. We wont get away unscathed.

CAMILLA said...

Totally agree with you Cait, Library's are such an important service for us, we must fight to save them. Actually our local Library now opens an extra day which is a Monday.

The Library also houses our Citizen's Advice Bureau, Woman's WI, small Art Gallery, Charity Shop, and little Tea Room where lots of lonely folk come to have a cuppa and pop into the Library to borrow the books.

Even to see all the lovely children in the Library after school choosing out their books too with their parents, imagine if they did not have access to those precious books to have on loan either.

Library also has Children's Author's coming to the Library to read their stories and give talks on literature.