We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, And know the place for the first time. ~T.S. Eliot Four Quartets

04 February 2012

National Libraries Day

Hebden Bridge Library
Hebden Bridge Library

In a world where we now pay for so much of what we used to get for free, the public library is like an endangered species and its hard to know how much longer it will survive. Here in England the government is closing libraries across the country, so today on National Libraries Day, my daughter and I are going to our local branch to show our support.
     As an avid reader and writer, naturally I love books. I buy them, swap them, donate them and borrow them- in copious amounts. I've regularly used the library since childhood. In Chicago we had a very local branch which I would spend ages in, browsing the children's section but having even more adventures sneaking round to the adult aisles, where a whole new uncharted world awaited. The library was a place that fueled my imagination. I have tried to instill this spirit into my own children, using the local library everywhere that I have lived. We have enjoyed story times, author readings, films, book sales, etc. We borrow dvd's which although we now have to pay for, are still better value than anywhere else. Although I do buy books, its a wonderful privilege to be able to go and pick out a book, or five, and take them home for free. We learn many hidden values by using the library, things like non-ownership or perhaps collective ownership, sharing, and a sense of community. As a Buddhist this fits in well with my world view, that we can appreciate something, without attachment, without always having to acquire it, own it. I am fond of bookshops in much the same way, except that I know if there's a book I  really want to read, I won't be able to unless I have the money to buy it.
    Artist's impression of the new library and archive
     In the valley I live in, in West Yorkshire, the council controversially plans to tear down the main library branch to build a new one costing millions of pounds. A new library should be a welcome idea anywhere, but with money being cut from every sort of service, and other libraries being closed, it begs the question as to why, when the one we've got seems perfectly fine.The council has given its reasons such as the current building will cost too much to update (things like mould problems) and the benefit of building a new one on a different site allows the current one to remain open until completion. That sounds like a valid point, as I would be more concerned if the library closed before they actually had a new one, that could result in no library at all. Another point the council made is that research shows more people are attracted to new and updated buildings. In today's mass market world that is probably true, we are like magpies always seeking out the new and shiny. Yet do we need to perpetuate that idea? are there not other ways to generate interest  in libraries? I don't know the answer but, the more people that use the library the better.
      Public libraries are one of the last bastions of democracy, providing knowledge and information accessible to all. Sure, just about every thing you could want to know or not want to know is accessible within seconds on the internet- and to some extent its free. The question of unlimited access to the internet is also under debate but for some its still not free. There are many who cannot or do not want to have the internet in their homes. If you can't afford to buy a computer, set up and pay for a phone line, pay for access every month, pay the electricity etc.. you can use the internet for free at the library, for a period of time. It would be a tremendous loss to society if our democratic system of public libraries disappeared, so that's why we continue to use and enjoy ours, and don't take the privilege for granted.

*proposed new central library, Halifax artists rendition courtesy of http://www.calderdale.gov.uk/leisure/libraries/new-library/index.html

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