In all honesty, I meant to write this post yesterday for #savelibraries day. Unfortunately, time got away from me, but I thought it was still important to write about how things are in this country, and why libraries are regarded as something that can easily be forgotten (in my opinion). I’ve written similar opinions on others’ blogs, but I thought it was time to finally put them on my own.
Libraries in the UK are being closed down now, part of many, many governmental ‘budget cuts’ that, to me, seem mostly designed to make life harder for poor people and easier for rich people. It’s the way it goes. But, as a reasonably well-off person these days, libraries are my main concern. Because I can afford to buy books, but I know others can’t. I know my parents couldn’t satisfy my insatiable need to read with buying (at least part of why I’ve read some of my childhood books 10+ times) and I’m pretty sure that today’s parents will struggle just as much. Literacy should be encouraged; as we watch our countries slide down in intelligence, as even schools start to go downhill, it seems basic literacy should be encouraged more than anything. I proofread others’ writing; I know just how bad at least some schools here are at teaching students how to write. I’m convinced that reading voraciously helps immensely with not only writing but a vast amount of skills that are simply necessary for modern day life.
So why are libraries failing and being cut as unnecessary? I have a few reasons to postulate:
1. Kids don’t read. Some do, yes, but their parents don’t read. Reading in our modern day lives has become a chore. The people I know in real life who do read don’t use the library. At all. But kids need guidance to learn what they like to read. While teachers should take this on, I firmly believe librarians can also play a huge part in this. My library here has programmes for kids to do just this. Without them, their resources are more limited. I see no programmes planned to replace those of closed libraries.
2. Libraries can actually cost money for borrowers. In my old library system, it cost 50p to reserve a new book. Everyone who paid their 50p could read the book before the rest of us. It also cost 50p or more to reserve a book in a different library in the system, and more than that to borrow a CD or DVD. I understand that they’re just trying to raise money, but surely charging for a borrowed book is not the way to encourage this. Especially with point number 3.
3. Charity shops are everywhere. And while their mission is to do good for various suffering people and animals across the country, it certainly doesn’t help libraries (or bookstores) that they sell books for 50p or £1. Some charity shops dare to charge £2.50-£4, but these are less popular than the former. If you can buy a book for the same amount of money it costs you to borrow it for 3 weeks, why bother with borrowing? Why risk it being overdue? If you buy it in a charity shop, you own it, and you can pat yourself on the back for donating money to good causes. I know I’ve done it, because it is a good thing, but it doesn’t help my main concern here.
4. Books in the UK are pretty cheap in general. Most paperbacks I buy new online are £5 or less, with free shipping. I buy the occasional hardcover for around £10. If I had a bricks-and-mortar shop to support locally, they’d still only cost about £8. I can go to Tesco, my local supermarket, right now and get two books for that price. It’s not the same difference in the US, where most paperbacks are now trade paperbacks and cost $10-15. That’s a bigger savings than £5. I can afford to buy more books new, so I do. I still use the library, but I buy the books they don’t have, since there is no request system in place for the purchase of new books.
There is simply less surface cause for British people to need the library – not if they don’t read particularly often – because books aren’t that expensive and quite often library charges cancel out the benefits of borrowing a book for nothing. But that doesn’t mean libraries should be closed. They’re essential to communities, offering services for both children and adults that won’t be replaced. I was thrilled to see a library in Doncaster featured on the BBC yesterday due to all the people that were protesting by checking out books. But it’s important to remember not to support your library on just one day. Support them regularly, and we can teach the government that they are something we genuinely need, that can’t just be ‘cut’.
ETA: Nymeth wrote an incredible post elaborating in much clearer detail on why libraries are important.