Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Double edged sword of Library closures.

Admiral Daala, my hero as a kid
In the week that Rochester was named in the top 5 best read Cities and Towns by Amazon based on its sales and me finishing the thousand page tome that was Storm of Swords, I’m going to resurrect a draft I started writing a year ago about Library closures.

It would be fair to say that I am a fan of books... well that's an understatement, I have my own library with an unknown number of titles, some are quite rare, a couple are all in German, some copies memoirs of long dead Feldmarschalls or Politicians and campaign histories for wars forgotten by the average person.

I've also got a large fiction section too, especially when combined with Dostoevsky, Goethe, Schiller, Tolkien, Pratchett, Bonaparte add this to my Wife's almost complete Stephen King collection and vast section of Philosophy and Religious books we have a room dedicated to them.

As a youth I hacked my way through my local library's Doctor Who books and history and as an adult with a four hour journey time to and from work I find myself reading the paper or my Kindle (best present ever!) every day.

In my time I have ridden into battle, stood in the ruins of Stalingrad, travelled through time and space, stood next to Admiral Daala aboard Knighthammer, witnessed great horror, fled from Pennywise the clown, shared the sorrows of young Werther, climbed great mountains and single handedly defeated great Evil. They have been epic journeys. Ones I'd like my daughter to take. Sophie is read to every day at bed time and during the day sometimes. she's been exposed to the Hobbit, Star Wars, Roald Dahl, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Aesop’s Fables, poems, Children’s books, Tunnels under London and even some Goethe in German and English. She loves her books and knows some of her picture books by heart even at the young age of two. We will always encourage reading in her as our families encouraged us.
As my Grandfather used to say; Knowledge is power
Books are one of the most valuable things in the world and a few of mine are listed in my most precious belongings.
Things have changed in the world now a days. There are other methods of storing information making it a lot more accessible. Kindles and Ipads can carry a virtual library on a small digital pad less than half a centimeter thick! Then there is also the internet, something that twenty years ago was not always readily available but is now ubiquitous. Instead of going down the library and looking for a book on a subject which may or not be there, paying to order in a rare biography (the two I wanted were von Ribbentrop's and Schellenberg's) or wandering into a second hand bookstore and on a rare occasions striking Gold - I can now get the information online or order it from an online store anywhere in the country!

The Sitcom How I met your Mother once postulated that the great Bar debate is now over and it is indeed true. How many times, before Internet phones, would you find yourself debating a topic or trying to remember which film you've seen that guy in, what was the batting average of Ian Botham or who would win in a fight between a TIE-wing and an X-wing? These debates could go on all night but now just ask the question and within minutes some smart arse has summoned up Google, IMDB or Wikipedia and answered it.

Time is also a factor in the death of books. If I didn't have my train journey to and from work my reading time would be deeply impacted. My wife has often told me to stop being Anti-social and put the Kindle/book/ newspaper away. If I want escapism and a good story there is my second love - movies. I'm a slow reader (about 20 pages an hour) and to read Lord of the Rings it would take me around 51 hours where as I can watch the films in 12! I'm a fan of 80's and 90's movies when there was plot and intrigue rather than gratuitous sex, violence and effects at the expense of story. Films like Willow, Star Wars (IV, V and VI not I and II), Labyrinth, Jaws, Jurassic park... etc.
Movie making has come a long way since then and before when it was all models and stop motion (which I still enjoy) the imagination was so much more crisp and sharper than anything that could be put onto film. Now, modern CGI can produce even better imagery than the imagination. This coupled with the rise of Computer games and consoles has put books further down the list of activities. The beauty of the Computer game is that I make the decisions where as General Burgoyne made his back in 1777 and Admiral Daala is tied to Kevin J. Anderson's narrative. I've flown countless sorties over four continents in countless aircraft types, fought the Dark lord Sauron with my own sword, ruled kingdoms, constructed great Castles and Empires, brought the King's Justice, killed more German Service men than died in World War Two and saved/destroyed the world. It is hard for books to compete with this.

Kids, indeed people are less involved in books. The Evening Standard ran frightening statistics that showed that child literacy, even adult literacy, was way below what it should be and have run a successful campaign to try and improve reading in schools and trying to combat library closures.
The Imperial War Museum ran a temporary gallery about Books based on wartime such as War horse, Carrie's War, the Machine gunners et. al but it failed to raise any real interest with the public, probably because no one reads anymore!
So why do we need Libraries then?

The purpose of Public Libraries was to bring books and knowledge to the people, especially the people who did not have the disposable income to buy their own. As great repositories of information covering wide ranging subjects anyone who wanted to know anything or wanted to lose themselves in fantasy could do so - all for Free!!!

Now however there are so many things that you can do and people have much more of a disposable income and can go out to theatres, watch documentaries on things, look stuff up online, lose themselves in epic movies or the mindless dross of soap operas... Books are so inexpensive these days too and so readily available, even delivered to your front door! Why go to the library?

In fact I remember seeing interviews with people so adamant that their local Libraries should be protected but then admitted they had never been to it!!!

The old adage comes to play; Use it or lose it.
Why should local authorities or National Government continue to fund a project that is not used? Isn't that the definition of a waste of money? Better NHS funding or a Library that isn't used?

It is easy political points to say you are opposed to the closure of a small library and cutting in their funding and staff. It takes a bigger person to make the hard decision (potential vote losing one too) that the Library must be closed. It is a decision that hurts me, something that is against my very soul and beliefs but one I grudgingly support. Not because I want to see the public robbed of a valuable resource but because the public do not realise what they have and no longer feel they need and let’s be honest we do need to save money...

I will say this though... show all wings of Government they're wrong - use your libraries. Lose yourself in a book or nine. Turn the TV off, pick up a book - draw your sword and plunge into Westeros or Middle-earth or whatever takes your fancy. Just go and use them or you will lose them.


  1. Library's though are much more than places where you can get a book. They often act as centres for training and a place for community groups to meet. Lectures take place or local history exhibitions are displayed. Rugby Library has even held concerts for young people.
    I would also argue that the death of the book is vastly overstated. I accept that literacy rates are down, but people are still reading despite the allure of TV and movies. take Game of thrones for example. I know many people who are now wading through its hefty tomes, despite having watched it on TV. I have always found reading more rewarding than TV or games, but I accept I might be the exception to the rule.

  2. I can go along with near-enough everything in this post, which I think is pitched just right.

    It is undoubtedly true that smaller libraries serving almost non-existent clientèles nowadays will struggle to survive; but in our area the council has done very good work in what these days would be termed "re-imagining" the library concept.

    Thus libraries such as the Community Library in Thomas Aveling School, opened in Sept 2004 (I was there) and the new Chatham Library, opened in Jan 2005 (I was at that opening too, and took the official photos as the Mayor's Office camera was playing up!) have been just about as future-proofed as it was possible to make them.

    Thus it isn't just books that one finds at these places, and whenever I pop in it always seems at least moderately busy and usually more than that.

    It is down to the good work of the council, and the driving forces like former councillors Wes Hollands and Richard Andrews, that have given our modern libraries the best possibility of a long life still ahead.

    I know: I was there when they were being planned, and indeed saw early drawings for a couple of what we now have (e.g. Hook Meadow).

    I have confidence in their futures!