One of our greatest social provisions, provided free of charge to citizens in every residential address across this country is the library. A simple concept, your local council provide the books, you borrow them for free for a pre-defined period of time, you read them, you take them back, you enrich your life and extend your knowledge, often without even knowing it.
Furthermore you, and your schools encourage your children to use libraries, to read and enjoy reading, to learn and not know that they are learning every time they pick up a free book – call it an investment if you like – the alternative is to just hope that knowledge is genetic, which it isn’t by the way, or I’d know how to pull a pint properly because my Great-Uncle Lenny certainly could.
And if you are lucky enough to live within the boundaries of a forward thinking council like the one I live within, Leeds, then you will be aware that its more than just books that libraries facilitate, its DVDs, talking books, free access to computers, and the latest and most excellent service that they offer – the eBook lending service a service that I have made great use of in the past twelve months. dare I say, one day all libraries will be made this way.
I say “dare” because there is a danger that the eBook service will become the preferred method of lending being that once the site hosting has been paid for, the book licences have been purchased and the books uploaded to the virtual bookshelf, then your overheads are paid, its a library thats open 24 hours a day with no librarians to pay for, no sticky-backed plastic to buy to back the books with, no ink for the rubber date stamps, nothing else to pay for.
Which would be a shame because as much as I love my Sony Reader and the Leeds City Council eBook service I also still use my “walk in and borrow a real book” library card, sitting on my desk at the moment are two “real” books and the Sony Reader with Chris Evans’ biography on it, all courtesy of Leeds City Council Library Service.
And so to our current incumbant government, their “big society” plans and their cost cutting regime that has forced the hand of Leeds City Council to speak of closing “up to” 20 of the city’s 53 libraries.
OK, so we may need to cut the budgets a little, but when prices rise and we feel the need to cut our household budget we don’t immediately think “Lets not buy any food this month”, we look to the more obvious ways to save little bits of money here and there, cut down on clothes shopping trips, cancel the film channels on Sky, that sort of thing, we wouldn’t not send the kids to school next year to save having to pay a teachers salary and so while its fair to consider all aspects of a council’s budget there are some things that should be ringfenced on the grounds of providing a vital social service.
And that service certainly shouldn’t be cut by 40%.
And so yesterday was declared National Library Action Day and because library users are in the main courteous, polite and well-meaning there were no marches on parliament, no ceremonial burning of a McDonalds, no “kettling” required, instead library users across the land were encouraged to attend their library and borrow their full entitlement of books all at once, legally empty the shelves (and then bring them back in 21 days of course, or you’d be fined), a whole regiment of authors, poets and illustrators stepped forward unto the breach to talk and read in their local library, the masses spoke and it was revealed that over 450 libraries across the country are facing closure – a national disgrace and a fit and lasting legacy of this government who are surely now singing their swan song only nine months into their term.
Now I hold my hand up, I didn’t go to my library and take out my full entitlement of books, I’m not even sure what my full entitlement of books is, i did think of downloading another three eBooks but I rather thought that that might be the opposite of what we are supposed to be protesting about, as much as I love the service the last thing I want is for some Whitehall mandarin to notice that the EBook service exists and get it into their heads that if every citizen was given a Kindle reader then we could close the library service in its entirety – and given that the Kindle doesn’t support the EPUB format that library eBooks use then that would be a fairly typical government decision with their already wonderful track record of bringing home IT projects on time, in budget, or at all.
So this will have to be my protest, I’m a regular user of our local library which fortunately is not threatened with closure and is in fact one of our city’s flagship library, a model for all future Free Lending Library’s, the reason why I still use it to read “real” books as well as my well-thumbed Sony Reader.
Long may the service live.