On Libraries

Being less busy these past few weeks I have had more time for accidents. One such accident was the discovery of an old copy of Happiness by Theodore Zeldin (Collins Harvill, 1988- out of print) in a bookcase, from which these lines come. They seem to sum up what libraries are all about.

“In paradise libraries (whatever kind of books they contained) might be recognised as holy shrines. In any case, she always approached libraries with a special emotion, half way between reverence and delight. However humble, however small, however poor, they were the only abode of faith, of the only faith she had, faith in the future.

As a tourist, she always tried to visit the library of every town she passed through, because that was where, she liked to think, the spirit of the town lived, even if the town did not know it, even if for the vast majority of citizens “book” was a four letter word, even if the library was a bus and came only once a week. She was keen to know how paradise could improve on what she regarded as the perfect haven of peace.

But a library was where she went to reduce the chaos in her mind; she was puzzled to find one that prided itself of reducing life to chaos……..there should be a library in every shopping centre, in every park, just like a bench to rest the mind, just like a waste paper basket to through foul thoughts into, just like a telephone kiosk to prompt a conversation with neglected friends. She had become so enthusiastic about the virtues of libraries that she had come to think that a library could be made into the very heart, the motor of her machine for making freedom. For a library was one of the very few things that had to be free; it incarnated freedom; it was where the mind was most free, where time ceases to be oppressive, where no book is penalised for being young or old, for the colour of its paper or its ink, where each has an equal voice, undisturbed by examinations of its precise beliefs, where no reader is accused of poking his noise into matters which do not concern him, where there are no secrets, where no promises are extracted, except to respect the right of everyone else, and of the books, to be there.”

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3 Responses to On Libraries

  1. Steve says:

    “The diary of a supposed futurist – observations on current and future trends” – Seriously?
    And you honestly profess that this idyllic rhetoric sums up what libraries are all about? Maybe 19th century libraries, but certainly NOT the 21st century library. What kind of futurist are you? Reluctant?

  2. bob farwell says:

    What a magnificent piece of writing! I have tried on occasion to convey the importance of our library as an asset and a refuge as well as a repository of information, but this is just about perfect. The idea of a library as curator of community spirit is entirely appropriate. Thinking about libraries as community assets and their current tenuous situations, I wonder how the loss of a library would measure against other losses many communities have endured: the loss of train and bus service, hospitals, autonomous schools. Would the community endure stoically, or would this be the act that confirmed their dissolution?

  3. Richard says:

    I just love it when something can generate two opposing views like this!

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