Close the Libraries then, we don’t need them anyway

I get the feeling that libraries are obsolete, like public baths and most other great victorian philanthropic institutions. Don’t get me wrong, I love books, and I loved libraries 30 years ago when I needed them. But now even the poorest in our society has a device in their pocket capable of downloading and reading more books than you could ever hope to finish in a lifetime. And the best of them are free now.
There may be an element of playing devils advocate here, since I have friends who are librarians, and I love the concept. However, we keep being told that cuts must be made, and I would rather we found other ways of borrowing books than trying to find other ways to stop depressed people being left all alone to finish themselves off. And in the same way as live TV broadcasts will probably go the way of the dodo, so will the printed word, and if not the printed word, then certainly the big, beautiful cathedrals to it that we have built for the purposes of never having the thing you wanted to read in at the moment (but I can order it for you dear, 2 weeks tops).
I have not had access to a library since I moved out to the sticks 11 years ago. We have a library bus that comes by on a Friday, but I’m at work then and can’t use it. This doesn’t bother me as I have been using the charity shop/car boot sale merry-go-round book reading method instead, which does a bit of good at the same time, and generates money for good causes, while also ensuring I always read the latest must-read book club type books a year or so after everyone else, and for only 50p.
When I was a kid though, I went to the local library every week, grabbed a huge pile of Doctor Who novelisations, rapaciously read them, and eventually got a gold book track badge for my troubles. And while I was doing my A levels I borrowed many piles of weighty textbooks that I couldn’t possibly have afforded to buy in order to plagiarise them for my extended essays (which I got As for by the way, no internet to check if I had cheated back then, it works both ways). So I do appreciate their uses.
But now it is different, we have e-readers and the internet, I can read anything that is out of copyright for absolutely nothing (thank you Project Gutenberg) and while I could not plagiarise it as blatantly anymore, I could find all the source material I could ever need at the click of a button. And it wouldn’t just be those books on the subject that my favourite head librarian in Bideford had chosen to put in there (Hi Rose, your books got me those As, thanks, good choices) I now have access to everything ever written, which is a little daunting, but equally brilliant.
So in the same way as public bathhouses were made obsolete by all of us having plumbing and soap in our own homes, the availability of information and books to all and sundry that the internet has set free has probably made libraries as we know them obsolete. I shall mourn them, as an integral part of my late twentieth century youth, but like those stove-pipe hatted philanthropists who set them up, I think their work is done. Maybe we can re-purpose the buildings as community centres instead?
Please tell me I’m wrong.

6 Comments

  • I will gladly tell you that you are wrong. Libraries are about more than books for a start, which is good as they seem to have fewer all the time. Libraries are community hubs. There are story sessions for the kids in their brightly lit area; there are study areas for students who really need to have space away from noisy housemates; there are even coffee machines that actually have palatable coffee in some of them. The computers that libraries provide may be horribly slow and ancient but you can guarantee that all those people who use them wouldn't do so if they didn't really need to. Often the people using them are kids who don't have the wherewithal to buy a computer and have to share with brothers and sisters who take up all the computer time. Considering that their educations are all going to hell at the moment due to lack of government funding it is a good thing that they have the library as a potential backup. The internet also isn't a source of all information that you could possibly want. The internet is admittedly very good and the library is admittedly not great but there are a great many resources I can get off a library shelf that would cost me dearly on the internet. A four month CD course in learning Russian would cost hundreds on the internet but in the library it is only a quid to borrow, if not free. It is also an oasis of calm to those who have agoraphobia and other issues that make it hard to be in town. The peace of a library can be a life saver to someone who can't take another minute of department stores and coffee chains. I could go on with more examples but I am hoping that I have convinced you now.

    Reply
  • You're wrong – if only for kids. My son (not quite 3) loves the library, both mobile and the 2 in our next nearest towns. His need for novelty is met by library books, and e-readers aren't child proof and the pictures come out rubbish. Seriously it's a high point of his week, despite the fact they he can operate an IPad better than me! I also still like to read an Actual Book sometimes… If you cared to investigate you'd find our town in the sticks is visited by the mobile library 3 x monthly and one long visit is on a Saturday morning so I can take my small person despite working full time. The stock changes loads, the librarian is super lovely, and it's a well used service, albeit by the young and old not 'our' demographic. I know the current gov't want us to believe there's no money for any public services… And of course schools and healthcare come 1st. But libraries offer something intangible – escape, and a little bit of magic, to all of us, and especially for kids, along with a lifetime of reading ahead. They still really matter.

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  • Thanks Ro, I needed to hear something like that, I have not set foot in a library for about 20 years, since they never have the book I am looking for, and it is quicker to order it from amazon (lucky enough to be able to afford to do shit like that). Good, yay libraries, it is good to hear they're still useful (though more as the community hub I mentioned than a book resource still).

    Reply
  • I did so want to be wrong, and ironically, it was watching Rowan and Emily navigating iPads in the pub that first made me think the lowly library may be dead. I too read actual books a lot as they never run out of battery or crash on me, and I can drop them in the bath without caring. Sadly, whether we believe the current government about the money or not, they are going to keep cutting stuff (including inheritance tax, I thangyewwww) and I thought they may be obsolete now. I am very glad to be wrong, and back up in Moor View we only ever saw the bus on friday mornings, good to know it's there at other times. I use the shelves at the community centre as a library in the same way as I use charity shops and the boot sale. It would be nice to have it even more library in there really. Thank you for restoring my faith in kids and libraries.

    By the way, not seen you in ages, you must leave Sam with the babies and come out for a pint some time.

    Reply
  • I did so want to be wrong, and ironically, it was watching Rowan and Emily navigating iPads in the pub that first made me think the lowly library may be dead. I too read actual books a lot as they never run out of battery or crash on me, and I can drop them in the bath without caring. Sadly, whether we believe the current government about the money or not, they are going to keep cutting stuff (including inheritance tax, I thangyewwww) and I thought they may be obsolete now. I am very glad to be wrong, and back up in Moor View we only ever saw the bus on friday mornings, good to know it's there at other times. I use the shelves at the community centre as a library in the same way as I use charity shops and the boot sale. It would be nice to have it even more library in there really. Thank you for restoring my faith in kids and libraries.

    By the way, not seen you in ages, you must leave Sam with the babies and come out for a pint some time.

    Reply
  • Thanks Ro, I needed to hear something like that, I have not set foot in a library for about 20 years, since they never have the book I am looking for, and it is quicker to order it from amazon (lucky enough to be able to afford to do shit like that). Good, yay libraries, it is good to hear they're still useful (though more as the community hub I mentioned than a book resource still).

    Reply

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