OED: Library – ‘Collection of books or place in which it is kept; reading or writing room in a house’
In September, Jackie at Farmlane Books Blog hosted a very fine discussion on the present state of libraries in England and the US with her post ‘How Can We Save UK Libraries‘ ?
Since autumn last year local campaigns to save public libraries from closure have grown in number and have become more vocal. This week, the Guardian reported how my twitter friend, @mardixon‘s question ‘went viral’, attracting ‘more than 5,000 responses worldwide’.
Libraries are important because … [fill in your answer & RT] #savelibraries
Oddly, the article focused on the speed of the retweeting and the celebrity interest in the hashtag rather than use Mar’s tweet as a springboard to open discussion on the campaigns behind it. The Guardian reports that most of the retweeted responses were memories of childhood book-borrrowing: “Libraries are important because, as a child, some of my best friends lived within the pages of a book”.
However emotionally attached we are to the idea of ‘the library’, we have to admit that they are not what they once were. Libraries have evolved into community hubs providing computer access and meeting spaces. Their holdings include audio books, DVDs and CDS alongside books.
PLR data records the borrowing habits of cardholders in the UK and it throws up some interesting facts. The most borrowed library books [2008/09] were popular fiction titles, ‘thrillers, romance and crime’. Children’s fiction featured heavily. Literary fiction was ‘striking by its absence’ – non-fiction was ‘barely represented’ and, once parental influence diminishes, so, it appears from the data, does late teen book-borrowing.
It’s wonderful to read and to be entertained. Escapist fiction has its place, of course it does. But what will happen when councils make those hard decisions about what to keep and what to sell?
What will happen to any rare books, manuscripts or archives on which the current libraries are built?
In making the case that a library must be all things to all people there is a very real danger that these holdings will be sold off to preserve books which are borrowed most often. Does it really come down to, say, a choice of the full serialisation of Bleak House in their original blue covers or buying the current title by Nora Roberts?
In his recent paper entitled ‘Libraries at Risk’, presented during the Seminar on the History of Libraries, Professor David McKitterick (Trinity College, Cambridge) made a compelling argument for remaining vigilant about our printed heritage.
>>>>>click to hear the >>PODCAST
It’s sobering to think about what is lost.
But it’s not too late. The first step is to take this opportunity to begin an open debate about our public libraries and to include within those discussions an examination of the current holdings.
[The paper was presented at the Institute of English Studies, University of London on 30 November 2010] — The podcast is shared [with kind permission] from the website of the Institute of the History of Ideas website under ‘History of Libraries’