In our recent and ongoing period of financial unpleasantness so many libraries are closing down or, should I say, are ‘being closed down’ by councils as they seek to cut costs.
According to The Guardian (which isn’t always to be taken as gospel but which should be believed when it quotes people who know) 340 libraries have closed in the UK in the past eight years and a further 340 could go in the next five. Among the many libraries being considered for closure is the first publicly funded library in the UK – Warrington Central Library opened in 1848 – the bellwether of English libraries.
The Public Libraries Act 1850 gave local boroughs in England and Wales (extended to Scotland in 1853) the power to establish libraries for reference and for free lending to not only ‘steer people towards temperate and moderate habits’ (keep them out of the pub?) but to encourage the ‘lower classes’ to spend their time on morally uplifting activities and engage in autodidactism (keep them out of the pub and allow men (and possibly even women) to learn stuff when the provision of a general education was severely limited).
It’s not just me saying ‘keep them out of the pub’. A campaigner for the working classes is quoted in the 1834 report of the Select Committee on Inquiry into Drunkenness that ‘the establishment of parish libraries and district reading rooms, and popular lectures on subjects both entertaining and instructive to the community might draw off a number of those who now frequent public houses for the sole enjoyment they (can) afford’.
In 2005/06 347,000,000 visits were made to UK public libraries (this doesn’t include academic libraries) with 48% of English residents visiting one at least once in the year. Since then use has decreased (2013 the figures were 288,000,000 and 36%) but that’s still a heck of a lot of people.
And they use libraries for so many things! Community gatherings, getting your bus pass, work spaces for school children, nursery classes, adult education classes and free access to the internet (still 14% of households in the UK – that’s 14% of 27,000,000 – 3,780,000 households have NO internet access). Libraries are critical!
It’s not just about referencing or borrowing books – though that is still their most important function.
Every year I get a statement (and a payment) from Public Lending Right UK. They track every time one of my titles is borrowed and for each reader I receive 4.2 pence. So please, if you haven’t read any of my books and you’d rather not buy them, go to your local library (if it’s still there) and ask for The Last Dance, or Walking Alone, or Runaways, or Highly Unsuitable Girl, or A Set of Lies, or Her Parents’ Daughter or Second Strand. They will be delighted to help you.
We must keep our libraries, as well as our independent bookshops.
Use them or lose them!