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Libraries gave us power


John Rylands Library

“Libraries gave us power” sang the Manic Street Preachers on their 1995 hit A Design for Life.  Sadly, it looks like that power is waning as many local councils across the country, faced with cuts to their budgets, are axing library services. Last week the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) reported that more than 200 public libraries were closed in the UK in the last financial year (2011-12) and staff numbers fell by 8%. At the same time, the number of books issued by libraries decreased as did the number of active borrowers. In a country with as rich a literary history as the UK these are depressing statistics.

For the millionaires in the Cabinet and those who grow up surrounded by books or who don’t have difficulty shelling out twenty quid for a new hardback, this may be of no concern. But for millions of us who aren’t so lucky, libraries play a crucial role in providing free access to books, newspapers, magazines and the world wide web and as a focal point for local communities. Reading this story got me thinking about how much my own life has been enriched by visits to libraries;

Going to the library in town as a kid on a Saturday morning and borrowing books for the first time.

Discovering the Guardian newspaper in the school library and being inspired by writers like Hugo Young and David Lacey.

Browsing in the mobile library that came round in the school summer holidays.

Spending hours in the university library with those books that you could only borrow for a few hours and weren’t allowed to take out of the building.

Picking up a dusty yellowing copy of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell for the first time.

Joining the local library whenever I’ve moved somewhere new and learning more about the local area.

Accessing the internet for free in the local library.

Nipping into libraries on our round the world trip to access the internet and keep in touch with friends and family via email.

Using libraries to search and apply for jobs.

Gazing in awe at the magnificent interior of the John Rylands Library in Manchester.

Exploring the brilliant Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell Green in London containing more than 40,000 books and newspapers on Marxism, socialism and working class history.

Sitting in the British Library, only a few weeks ago, listening to the poet Simon Armitage talking about walking the Pennine Way.

Losing yourself in a good book is one of life’s great pleasures. It allows us to meet new people, visit new places, learn new things and escape our everyday lives. Libraries mean that everyone has access to books and the wealth of knowledge and entertainment inside them. They encourage children to read and enjoy books and provide an invaluable community resource for many thousands of people. Public libraries need our support. Without them we risk stumbling into a world where access to information and the pleasure of reading is restricted to those that can afford it.


From → Culture

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