I’m sitting in the Virgin Atlantic lounge at Heathrow tucking into some scrambled eggs and a copy of The Week. On the letters page there’s an exchange between the director of community services at Lancashire County Council and a man from West Yorkshire. The letters originally appeared in The Guardian newspaper. I have edited both letters slightly for copyright reasons.
“ Libraries are not about borrowing books. They are not about housing books. They are one of the vehicles for local councils to deliver community cohesion, social inclusion, community engagement, and equality and diversity. Libraries are a place where you can access the internet. They are venues for homework clubs, mother and toddler groups, local councillors’ surgeries and benefit advice sessions. They work with schools to promote life skills, with HM Prison Service to promote literacy and numeracy and with social services to safeguard adults and children. Public libraries are local community centres that attract all ages and all sections of society.
If libraries didn’t exist we would have to invent them.”
“ My local library was the first Carnegie library to be built in England but it is now effectively unusable by anyone wanting to put it to its original purpose. Whole rows of bookshelves have disappeared to make room for computer terminals where bored teens surf away their days. Another space has been cleared to make space for infant schools. Large groups of excited children come in to talk loudly and fight over the very same books that they have back at their classrooms. Other areas are furnished with comfy sofas and coffee tables where people eat their lunch and make mobile phone calls. This what people like Mr X have invented. It might be a community centre but it’s not a library.”
So here’s my question. Can you have a library without books? I think not. It would be called Starbucks.