Do we Really Want our Libraries?


Believe it or not this is not as ridiculous a question as it seems. A lot of people are asking it or something similar. Questions such as: what do we want libraries for? Or, what do we want libraries to do or to provide?

Why is this? Surely, we can all take libraries for granted, can’t we? They’re just there, around the corner, maybe in the next street, definitely in your town somewhere. You go there and borrow a book, read the paper, go on the internet, do your homework or simply sit and read. So what’s the problem? Well, unfortunately the problems are exceedingly obvious and don’t take much imagination to come up with. Books are being threatened by e-books; you get them on the internet – including newspapers – and so they can be read anywhere, including the ever more popular coffee bar. And indeed, generally much of what libraries traditionally offer can be found in other places. Add to that the problems associated with public sector funding cuts and things get very difficult. So what’s happening?

Firstly, the government published a report in December which recognised certain problems and came out with recommendations. Apparently quite a lot of libraries have been closed ( top of the list is the brand new, highly rated central library in Birmingham which had only been open a year before major reductions in opening times and services were adopted ). Library use generally has declined. 60% of us have library tickets but less than a third of us now use libraries regularly. And so there has been a reduction in staff numbers. However, you could work on the basis that difficulties concentrate the mind and stimulate creativity. Which begs the question: what is being done to help? The report suggests a strategic group ( ‘Leadership in Libraries’ ) to look at the problem. Professionals are working overtime to come up with bright ideas. Some of these range from digital advances, links with schools and doctors ( reading can apparently reduce stress by 67% and dementia by 35% ) and with people like the CAB ( Citizens Advice Bureau ). Community involvement is also suggested.  And yes, coffee bars could be added.

The British Library in London has places to eat and drink – What’s your local like in this regard? It is also suggested that towns and cities will be poorer without these places, where knowledge is free and everyone can read, write and think safely. And where else will you find all 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary – the biggest English dictionary in the world!!! It tells you everything you could possibly want to know about the language!

The best way to preserve the Library is to join your local one, find out about it and enjoy it. It could well be a case of use it or lose it!!!

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I'm semi-retired after a successful and much enjoyed career in education. Funnily enough, my last job was as a tutor for OOL. I taught on courses providing professional training for school support staff, as well as A level English Literature and English Literature GCSE. I've had an interesting career, in schools, colleges, adult education, the Arts and a few other bits and bobs. At one stage I was also a local authority inspector. Now I'm a school governor, and am enjoying watching my young grandchildren go through their own first experiences of school. Through these articles I hope to keep you up to date with different aspects of education news – and also to keep you interested!

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