The debate rages about the library closures and with the wonderful 20/20 vision of hindsight, we should have seen the it coming.
Over 2 decades ago, the then-government cut funding for children’s school library books, with much public indignation and outrage. Thank heavens then for public libraries, so that children with limited access to books at home may read, research and uncover the joys and uses of the written word.
Fast forward 10 years or so to my local High Street and a branch of Woolworths one Saturday morning. Ahead of me in the store was a young boy, no more than 10 years old. His shoes were obviously too large for him as he shuffled along and on this cold winter’s day he wore no socks. His trousers were too short and his coat swamped his skinny frame.
He paused at the extensive display of books for sale, selected a book and started to read. I almost expected to see him physically devour the book, so total was his absorption. I’m not keen on jumping to conclusions, but I thought it a fair conclusion that this child had little access to books at home. I had no way of knowing if he used the library, but here was a child clearly in the thrall of the written word.
I’ve thought about him as the debate intensifies over the potential library closures.
Look around any library, not just at the obvious shelves of books and materials for listening, viewing, study and reference; look at the different age groups who frequent it; check out the wealth of local information, of groups meeting for interest, or support, clubs and societies.
Many libraries in smaller town are meeting places for children’s playgroups, story-times, midwives and drop-in sessions of all kinds. With one fell swoop this hub of the community is likely to be lost, removing access to a repository of knowledge, services , reference and information.
There seems to be some common political advisory currency that “everyone has access to a computer; everything is on Kindle”. To the less well off these goods are as inaccessible now as they ever were. Closing the libraries will leave the disadvantaged, the isolated and children like the boy in Woolworths even more marginalised. Will the Big Society step in to close the gap? I doubt it.