Monday, 28 February 2011

From the library

I usually join the library wherever I stay for a few days, and was recently chatting to another boating friend about our large collection of library cards from around the country! As well as computer use, you can take out a book from one library and return it to a 'sister' library further along the canal.
I'm writing this in Paddington library because I don't have much laptop power (forgot to charge up on solar and now it's raining) and I also want to print out some pages. Today, I've brought my own laptop along to plug in and use in warmth, light and comfort. What else do I use the library for? Reading the paper, reading expensive canal magazines that won't get binned after one read, checking out the local events I could go along to or getting info about doctor's surgeries, bus timetables. I have, on rare occasions, borrowed CDs or DVDs and often bought second-hand library books.
Looking around me, I see mums and dads with kids just starting to read or looking at the pictures while parents grab a chance to choose books or check e-mails in peace. No need to keep a watch-out for traffic here. A free place to take the children when school or nursery is shut. I was in here last week and they were running free health-checks in one corner of the library, offering blood-pressure checks, etc and dietary advice. I've seen story-book readings for groups of pre-school kids in some libraries, computer classes for retired people in others, coffee-shops in a couple.
I've listened in to a computer lesson given to an excluded pupil by a teacher or key-worker.
Today, I see older people, having a sit down with the paper, one frail lady with her shopping looks like she's just come in to sit down because there's no-where else you can sit out of the rain, without spending money.
There are students here, I think, judging from the books and files open around their computers. People at the study tables, writing furiously in what may be the only quiet place they have. There's a man with the jobs paper open, pen and notebook beside him. There are people reading the arabic newspapers, others talking very quietly in a language I don't understand.
I remember blogging a while ago about trying to get back from Rugby to my boat on a bus-free day. I found the library open and was able to photocopy part of an ordnance survey map that helped me find my way home across footpaths and disused railway.

I think of all this, knowing that the government aims to close one fifth of the libraries in the country. I found this site that shows a map of the libraries under threat of closure. I see from one comment underneath that 9 out of the 11 libraries on the Isle of Wight are to close!
There have been protests that get very little media coverage, perhaps because they tend to be quiet protests like read-ins and because the people most affected by the closures are disenfranchised and feel powerless. Many library users are tired single parents, retired people, people with disabilities whose day-centres have closed, job-seekers, asylum-seekers, homeless people and travellers like myself. I don't suppose the wealthy have much use for libraries as they order books online and don't need the social, free aspect of a library. If it's raining outside, you can sit in the car or a cafe/restaurant or go to the cinema etc.

My daughter, studying part-time for an MA, has the use of the Bodleian library in Oxford. That elitist establishment will never close. The one she passed in a run-down, impoverished street in Deptford recently, had already shut.


Simon said...

and, frustratingly, we know that whatever happens in the future, we'll never get these services back in the form they are now. It'll cost millions to start up again, the things they're closing to save a few thousand now.

Neil said...

Echo all your observations and experiences of libraries of today, horrified at the scale of closures.

Such happy memories of libraries as a schoolboy in the 1950's/60's.

Loss of these updated social spaces represents a further retreat from communal to a solitary society existence, in the name of economy - what will be next culling exercise?

Anonymous said...

I was brought up in rural Wales where it was a huge trek to the nearest town - the mobile library was a godsend for keeping my active and curious mind alive. I was, and still am, a voracious reader, my parents could never have afforded to buy enough books to keep me satisfied!

It's a great shame that they're targetting the libraries - as Neil says, we won't get them back....

Sue, nb Indigo Dream

Neil Corbett said...

As the old saying goes, the bean counters know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments dear friends.
Sue, I bet that mobile library arriving was better than an ice-cream van to a voracious reader like you. And Neil - you are absolutely right about the solitary society. We see that in other areas too, where people retreat into ipods and mobile phones rather than strike up a conversation at a bus-stop. We can scan our own shopping, top-up phones, withdraw cash, renew things online etc and never have to speak to a soul. I'm so glad we boaters sometimes actually meet, talk and share a pint :-)
Dear Simon - now I understand why your house is stuffed with books - you knew it was coming, didn't you?!!

Carrie x