A fan from Singapore just sent me this photo of our meeting at a book signing. Thank you, Brenda and Belynda!
And here's a picture taken at the reopening of Bushey Library last month, where I was delighted to be invited to speak. Here's part of my what was said. I was asked along to talk about my own writing, but couldn't let the opportunity pass to say something about libraries!
I was pleased to be invited to talk about my books at the relaunch of Bushey library. Before speaking about my own books, I decided to say a few words about how fantastic it is to see a refurbished library in the current climate.
With over 430 libraries closed or under threat, the professional body of librarians CILIP are forecasting another 600 more will soon be under scrutiny. That’s around 20% of our libraries threatened with closure. And Brent are currently threatening to close 6 out of their 12 libraries!
Under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964 local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide a library service. But the government are changing the rules, claiming attendance has been dropping since 2005, although children’s visits have remained steady.
Libraries, on the other hand, report increased use since the start of the recession. In the past year around 50% of adults in England visited libraries. They go there for free books, information, learning resources, work and ICT. New communities seek help with English, material in their first language, and help with citizenship procedures.
But whatever the true picture, there is no question that funding is a problem, provoking a lot of debate about what can be done. Reducing opening hours would only make visiting more difficult; reducing stocks would have an adverse effect on users’ satisfaction; and replacing staff with volunteers would, in my opinion, be disastrous. Part of the value of libraries is the expertise of the trained librarians. Introducing any of these measures would inevitably hasten the demise of any library, in my opinion. You can’t rescue a good service by making it mediocre or worse.
The question should not be solely about money. As US Publisher’s Weekly says: ‘‘The value of libraries should not be measured in economic terms alone’’, although of course economic considerations can’t be disregarded. We have to decide what we want from libraries in the 21st century, with our 24/7 culture, cheap books, ebooks, and almost limitless information accessible to all without having to stir from our homes.
What kind of society do we want?
Borders closed, the whole Waterstones chain has recently been bought for price of one footballer, and the past 15 years have seen an increase of over 1,000% in lap dancing clubs in London alongside a 6% decline in libraries in the capital.
As book lovers, we should all care about libraries, even if we don’t use them ourselves. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to speak up in support of our struggling library service, because without pressure from the reading public, libraries as we know them may not survive for much longer. To paraphrase Burke: “All that is necessary for the disappearance of libraries is for readers to do nothing.”
Labels: Books, libraries, singapore