Why Libraries Are Important

I know I am preaching to the converted here but I still need to say it: libraries are important.

I have been a member of the library since I was three years old.  My nearest local library closed down nearly two years ago despite being the third most used in the borough.  It has been replaced by a mobile library service which now visits the town just once a week for an hour and a half on a Friday afternoon.  Further cuts are being made to opening hours and the number of trained staff as well as a reduction in the purchase of new books.  This situation is being repeated up and down the country.

The 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act stipulates that local authorities have a duty to provide a comprehensive library service in every borough.  However, some politicians still seem to think that libraries are now less essential given that broadband access is available pretty much everywhere now.  Firstly, this is not true as around 8 million people in the UK have never used the Internet and many more do not have access to it in their own homes.  Secondly, this is still missing the point entirely about what libraries are actually for.  Libraries provide access to information whether it be in the form of books, local archives, the Internet or newspapers.  They are community centres which offer social and educational services such as reading groups or IT lessons which help people develop skills.  Most importantly, they are easily accessible and free for everyone to use.  As an avid reader, libraries provide me with access to books that I otherwise wouldn’t buy for myself.  They also broaden my horizons by introducing me to other genres or authors I might not have considered reading before.

It is depressing that one of the few public services that brings real enjoyment to local citizens is being targeted with deep cuts when seemingly little is being done to improve efficiency in other areas.  It is also somewhat cruelly ironic that the economic crisis has renewed interest in libraries given that buying books is a luxury that many cannot afford.

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “Why Libraries Are Important

  1. First, I am a huge advocate of books, reading, and have spent several lifetimes in the local public library; however, the world is changing and we are finding that some of the old ways are being challenged by new ideas and new technology. In this new world it is incumbent on the library to change—to adjust to the needs of new patrons.

    In this area we have seen the increase of digital media. No matter how much we loved listening to the scratches and pops on the old vinyl records, we will never see them again. And even video tapes have been replaced by DVDs. Now we are seeing digital versions of the common paper and ink books and, just as important, a new digital delivery system for those eBooks. The argument that not everyone has internet access is valid but recent history shows there is a strong movement toward more universal access. Add this to the dramatically reduced price of the electronic readers and it is reasonable to envision a more central repository of digital books that can been accessed immediately.

    I have found that without the computer which allows me to scan all the libraries in my state, I would use the library far less than I do now. Like brick and mortar bookstores, the selection of books is skewed to recent popular fiction, and is therefore not highly useable for a well-read patron. On the internet almost any book still in print is easily accessible and even many out-of-print books are not difficult to find.

    Perhaps the business model of a company like Amazon is what libraries should look towards. Digital books are available immediately and less popular books are only two-days away through common package delivery. Books-on-Tape offered a built-in return packaging already that I’m sure is adaptable.

    On the other hand, the physical libraries in this area are becoming internet centers for those patrons who do not have internet access in their own homes. I see this as a good thing and possibly expandable, but even here technology will eventually phase out the need. Perhaps the libraries should centralize but offer smaller satellite locations where patrons can access the internet, load digital editions, and even pick-up requested books.

    Still, I agree with you that the public library is valuable to a community, but I suspect it will survive longer by adapting.

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  2. I find this terribly distressful to hear about library cuts and closings. The same thing is happening here in France. Budgets have been cut drastically effecting opening hours and the quantity of books being bought to stock the shelves. If we don’t start to support our local libraries, we will only have ourselves to blame for them disappearing. I’m like you. I’ve been going to the library since I was 3 and I still remember how much I looked forward to my weekly visit. It’s a shame that the youngest generation will probably not have the same feeling for books as we do. Electronic books and iTunes is taking over the world. For the younger generations that seems cool, but what will they do when the connection gets cut and they lose everything.

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  3. Cuts cuts cuts – then they drive home to Chipping Camden in their Rollers and Mercs! The wooden shack that was our local library in the fifties was a key opportunity for me – the first in my family – to get an education post 16 and go on to university. Cuts affect the poorest and the disadvantaged all the time. The better off can usually buy what they want.

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  4. This is a sad but truthful post. Are five year olds supposed to use the internet and have a bed time story on a Kindle, a Nook or and iPad? It’s depressing to think that they are disappearing.

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  5. I think libraries are thriving, adapting to modern life but still thriving. You made me think of the first library I used as a child. Aged about 11 I had read all the children’s books and was allowed to take books from the adult section. One day I fronted the desk with a book only to have the spinster librarian take it from me and tell me to find something else. The Book was Man Shy by Frank Dalby Davison. The librarian obviously hadn’t read it . It was simply a book about wild cattle in the Australian bush and I knew that the class above me at school had it as a set text !

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  7. I am completely in agreement. I feel that the public library is the best bargain in the universe! Anyone, regardless of economic status, can to into the library and have equal access to all the collected information. It’s an important civilizing influence, a place where little ones are taught to love reading, adults can acquire literacy skills and the community can gather for special programs. Long live the public library! 🙂

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  8. I’m a huge fan of the library and it breaks my heart when my local libraries close and hours are cut. It’s free for all individuals yet sadly many never do. I think libraries have also adopted to social changes with ebooks and audio books to check out. My library even has a phone app to help locate books. Yes I have a kindle but nothing is better than holding a book from the wonders of the library.

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  9. Yes libraries need to move with the times and yes digital technology makes it easy to get books without going anywhere near a physical library. But I don’t get the same experience of browsing and finding something unexpected by going through an amazon catalogue.

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  10. The fact that public libraries are slowly being cut is one of the most devastating things I can think to happen in our society. A bit biased (I will admit) as an avid book lover, I still think libraries are critical to have around – for both educational and social reasons. You post was something that needed to be said and I’m sorry that more people don’t understand how important libraries are – if not to the majority, to a high percentage of us!

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  11. As a public librarian I have to say thank you for posting this! It’s nice to know we are still valued. 🙂

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  12. Yes, libraries are still well used and the cut backs only make it more difficult for staff to provide the same services with less resources. The community factor is important. Our technologies drive us toward individualism and the library still provides a place where people with common interests can meet. The fact that books are free to borrow is huge. Though I use a kindle, it still means buying the book and I don’t do that often. Long live the library!

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  13. Thank you for bigging up the libraries! It is a fact that we have to move with the times and many Library Services in the UK are doing just that with the budget they are allowed. There are mobile apps in some areas, and the majority of counties now have e-books available to download. (Not to a Kindle though, Amazon won’t let us!) but to various other e-readers and devices. Although we are still all about books lets not forget that libraries are a community area, open to all with something to offer everyone. Dear me, I got a bit passionate there! But where would we be without them? I for one wouldn’t have anything to write about on my blog! Thanks again.

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  14. It’s National Libraries Day in the UK this Saturday, 9th February. Ask at your local library to see what events they are running on or around the day. You can also search Twitter via #NLD13. With so many of our libraries facing cuts, perhaps we should have a ‘hug a librarian day’ too. I would be devastated if my local library closed, but a library worker would lose more than me – they would lose their livelihood.

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  15. Pingback: Are Libraries Killing Bookshops? | A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff

  16. Vishy

    Nice post! I totally agree with you on the importance of libraries. I think for some reason the powers that be seem to think that if one has an internet connection, it is easy to get books. They don’t realize that even e-books cost money and in most cases that is as expensive as a paper book. Libraries are important intellectual and learning centres for the community and I hope the government changes its policies and provides more funding to libraries.

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  17. Pingback: Change is in the air | City Literal

  18. Thanks for this post. It inspired me to write a brief post of my own, and include a link back to your post. –City Literal http://urbanlibrarian.com/2013/03/15/change-is-in-the-air/

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  19. I love old and new co-existing. Handwritten letters and email, historic buildings next to new modern ones, old people talking to young people and as there are new ways to enjoy books there should still be the old ways – libraries and holding a book in your hand.

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  20. Pingback: The 2013 End of Year Book Survey | A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff

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