Saturday, February 05, 2011

Libraries Everywhere

Did we save libraries today? We'll see. The day certainly seemed to go well. I started off on BBC Breakfast alongside Alan Gibbons - tireless champion of the book, the library and all things civilised. Then I took a call from Radio 4 and confirmed that yes, hacking away at a library service is indeed barbaric. The producer didn't seem surprised.

Meanwhile, I was really impressed by all of the passionate and articulate responses to my previous blog post.

It looks like a fair few people got the wrong end of the stick, so let me try to be a bit clearer:

I'm advocating MORE library spaces, but smaller ones, spread all over the country with a wider reach than the network has at the moment. Nobody should ever feel far from a library haven. But the only way to do this is not to try to pack them all with actual books! Most of the resources can be online - most of them. Not all. I'm not proposing we take physical books away from kids learning to read, for example (though I think there was a financial journalist on BBC Breakfast before Alan and me who seemed to think that should be part of the plan.)

Unfortunately all that was tucked away somewhere in the last third of my previous post so it was a little too easy to miss.

My general point was that the piecemeal move into the electronic world needs to be coordinated nationally and if we work out the economics of it we can have a truly great, truly universal library system.

I have more to say, and plenty more ideas, but first of all take a look at the way things stand this evening:

Saturday, 5th February
Speaking to the Oxford Mail this week, Culture Minister Mr Ed Vaizey, the MP for Wantage, said: “People have to come with ideas. They have to look at different options.”
People the length and breadth of the UK have come up with ideas. Between five and ten thousand people rallied round their libraries. Hundreds of thousands of people had already signed petitions. Well-known figures such as Philip Pullman, Lesley Garrett, Phil Jupitus, Tony Christie, Brian Blessed and Billy Bragg have added their voices to the call for a change of heart. At one hundred Read-ins communities, librarians, user groups and librarians demonstrated in creative, fun ways just how much their libraries mean to them.
Campaign for the Book organiser Alan Gibbons who initiated the Save Our Libraries Day said: “This is a grassroots movement. I hoped for a dozen events, but local people took up my call and made it something refreshing, urgent, local and liberating. They have put out a positive message: our libraries, our communities, our right to have a say over their future.”
As a consequence of the Comprehensive Spending Review 400 libraries are under threat. Compare this with the situation in South Korea where 180 new libraries are being built. South Korea is top of the PISA international rankings for competence in reading. In ten years the UK has fallen from seventh to twenty-fifth. This is no time to cut libraries.
Campaign for the Book organiser Alan Gibbons said:
“Government ministers must heed the view of the people. Libraries are a vital part of local communities. The National Literacy Trust has given evidence that visiting a library makes you twice as likely to be a good reader, the very foundation stone of academic and social achievement. I appeal to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to call a moratorium on library closures now and convene a seminar involving all the major representatives of library users and librarians’ organizations. We have the ideas, Mr Vaizey. From government we need the will to explore them fully and without prejudice.”

Alan Gibbons is an award winning children’s author and organizer of the Campaign for the Book. The Campaign Charter can be viewed
Alan is preparing an Open Letter to the DCMS signed by several thousand authors, librarians, teachers, library users, children and public figures.

I hope Alan doesn't mind me putting that statement up here, but it's good so I wanted to whip it up while it was fresh.

I'll seek retrospective permission!


owen said...

come to my blog at

Anonymous said...

When looked at in hard economic terms - libraries, especially with print books are fairly expensive. If we could all access cheap CDs with books loaded on them we'd be fine but the advances haven't settled yet to provide a comprehensive access to our heritage, our news access, our information needs through journals and magazines and our study needs; they've become linked with buying another device - the e-reader, the tablet, the notebook - from all sorts of sources. Hence we still need librarians - or cyber/uber interpreters. I understand in many parts of the Uk library staff are still spending a major part of their time manually issuing books and other items instead of guiding borrowers to the resources they want [i.e. fulfilling the role of a reference person]. At least here in NZ we have self issuing machines in many public libraries and this frees up some of our time for person to person service.

My main response to all the other worthy and eloquent supporters of library services is:

physically going to a library validates and normalises the value of reading especially for children, it puts them in touch with a reading and knowledge community. This makes an impact that accessing material at home through a computer or e-reader would not do. That's assuming they live in a home that supports some form of reading and that can afford one or the other piece of technology. We all know there are huge numbers of homes that can't provide this whereas reading a print book from a library is still free. I think the idea of smaller libraries and more of them is good in some ways but that has to be backed up by free reserves because it will not be possible to stock each of those smaller libraries with enough computers, e-readers for loan or print books.