Next week I'm going to be on the panel at something called a 'People's Enquiry' into the library service in the UK. I'm looking forward to the discussions, questions and testimony from all sorts of people associated with libraries, and I'll be going in with an open mind, of course. But over the next week I also need to spend some time reflecting on the whole concept of a library.
At the moment I can't help comparing the library service with public service broadcasting. We pay a licence fee which largely goes to the BBC. Supposedly there are some services that are so essential for the good of British society that we all need to put money into a big pot (a huge pot) so that the BBC can provide them. Access to certain information and entertainment is of enough national importance that we have a company paid for by the public that puts things on the telly and on their website.
Now, obviously libraries are paid for by the public too, through tax rather than through a separate licence fee. But why? One result is that the library service budget is so much tinier than the BBC's, and is so much more vulnerable.
I suppose I'm asking: if the information and entertainment is so important that we are legally obliged to provide the BBC with a budget of billions, why aren't we also obliged to provide the library service with a budget that is of a comparable size?
I think if we follow all this through we get to three possible conclusions: the BBC should take over running the library service; or we should have a separate 'library licence' fee; or there shouldn't be a TV licence fee because there isn't one for libraries.
Even if you don't want to go that far, surely it seems logical that part of the licence fee should pay for the computer access provided by libraries - because the licence fee pays for the BBC website, but without libraries there isn't universal access to that site.
That's one angle I'll be pondering while I go on yet another trip to the Post Office.
Why don't we have automated post office machines that can weigh and measure your item, dispense the correct postage and take your package for you?
While we're at it, why don't we have drive-through, automated post offices? And what about drive-through cash machines? I remember seeing them in California a few years ago. They make so much sense.