Last weekend I heard Shaun Ley on The World this Weekend at 1pm on Sunday13th June, highlighting the KPMG report on public services. The only part he mentioned was libraries, by which he implied public libraries.
Both the presenter and his interviewee referred several times to dusty libraries, Victorian institutions, and at one point managed to link libraries to workhouses, saying the latter had been done away with, implying why not libraries? I'm not sure what relevance this has to public libraries today, as they are a statutory service and have been since 1964 and as far as I am aware the current administration has not expressed any desire to cahnge this situation as yet.
We still have several Victorian institutions in this country, our whole state education system for one. Although there are many cries for it to change, no one has suggested doing away with it in its entirety, so why do it to libraries. The cry is libraries are expensive to run, well many services are, but would doing away with them save the money suggested, or would it be re-directed to other public services which may be needed to replace some of the things libraries already do. Who for instance would run the People's Network, which libraries took on, set up and still run for the benefit of those who do not have their own PCs?
This item really irritated me, as it seemed to be under researched, despite visiting one of Tower Hamlets Idea Stores, which were heralded as the way libraries would be in the 21st century, and many library authorities have spent much time, effort and money on improving their public libraries. I also felt the item didn't really cover the technological advances libraries have made, making their catalogues available on the web, being able to renew books, reserve items over the web abd so on. Although still a fairly regular visitor to my local library, its not as frequent as it may have been in the past, because of those technological changes. I rarely visit the reference library to look for information, but using my library card, can access a number of important and useful reference tools via the library catalogue, such as the Dictionary of National Biography, The Times digital archive, Encyclopaedia Britannica, News UK ( a news archive of a large collection of newspapers) and many more. No wonder personal visits to libraries are falling.
If public libraries were to disappear, who would provide the storytimes for pre-school children which libraries hold regularly, the rhymetimes for babies and toddlers, and the summer reading challenge, with its encouragement for school age children to read for fun in the summer holidays. Who would provide the range of large-print books and unabridged audio books available to those who need these formats, often the older reader. Most bookshops only provide abridged audio books, and many readers who need this format cannot afford to buy all that they might want to read. The very young and the old, the more vulnerable members of society would be the ones who would suffer most from a lack of publicly accessible reading materiel, and we all would the poorer by depriving ourselves of the resources availble in any public library.