If you asked me how I felt about public libraries, I would tell you that I love them, of course. I think they are necessary and beautiful and egalitarian and one of the vital pieces of the puzzle that is social inclusion. As a child, I went to the library every week or so with my mother and I relished the browsing and the choosing of books. There they were, all these stories, all these ideas, all this information, and I could take any of it.
So my position in relation to the closing of libraries and the reductions in funding and the sacking of qualified librarians is – of course – horror and disgust. How can they do that? It shouldn’t be allowed. We shouldn’t sit by and them do that to our libraries.
If I want something specific, it’s much easier to order it online. My most local library is only open a handful of very confusing hours and I hardly ever go anywhere near the big one in town. Anyway, chances are the book I want won’t be there anyway, or it’ll be at another branch and I’ll have to order it (and pay to do so). Much easier to get hold of the item online, and if it’s something old, possibly cheaper too.
The library used to be my first stop when I needed reference books for whatever I was working on. I do try to swing by these days when I’m starting my research, but the big library moved almost all their reference books out several years ago, leaving mostly study guides, travel, cookery, biography and local history. They do have other reference books if you look through the catalogue, but you have to order them and wait, and you can’t tell if they’re useful until you have them in your hand. There’s no substitute for browsing.
However, I have decided that these are poor excuses for not using the library. Libraries desperately need to prove to those who want to cut their funding that they are relevant and vital. They need me (and YOU!) to go regularly to borrow books and use whatever other facilities are available there.
And so I have decided that my resolution for next year is that the majority of the books I read will be library books. I intend to visit the library at least once every couple of weeks and I’ll be inviting my kids to go with me. I thought about saying I wouldn’t buy any books, but I’ve done that before and it’s hard to stick to, particularly as I have lots of writer friends and they need my support when they bring out new books (as I need theirs).
So, what about you? Could you make better use of your local library? When was the last time you were there? Do you feel it’s a vital service that should exist for the benefit of everyone? How about joining me in my new year’s resolution? Use it or lose it, as they say.