On public libraries

July 30, 2015

I wondered why I’d stopped using the public library: given that Stamford Public Library was my introduction to the vast and varied world of reading as a child, it seems rather odd…

As I thought about it, I realised first, that as I’d grown up and come to have disposable income of my own, I could begin to build my own, personal library, and that it was nice to have my own copies of my favourite books. As a student of literature, I was introduced to a wide range of reading, and gradually began to realise that no public library was going to have everything I wanted to read on loan; at that point I would have to buy books if I wanted to read them. In pre-internet days, requesting anything on an inter-library loan was a major performance, and one that I avoided.

Also, in those days, there were many more second-hand bookshops around, and their prices were rather more reasonable than they are today, so I bought even more books. Before one was able to go online and track down any book in a matter of seconds, combing second-hand bookshops was often the only way of (eventually) tracking down rarities. My personal library grew through hundreds into thousands of volumes.

So it seems to have been a question of habit, really, that took me away from the library. Over the years, too, libraries have become less about books per se, and more about providing access to information for all, particularly those unable to afford books or computers; budgetary cuts have also meant that there was less money to spend on books…too many times, I remember going into a library to look for a book and not finding it.

Now that I’m feeling rather overwhelmed by the number of books in the house, and am trying to gradually reduce their number, I have taken to calling into our local library more frequently – I’ve realised that I don’t actually have to own a copy of everything I want to read, and if what I want to read was published relatively recently, there’s a decent chance they may have a copy of it.

On a political note, I’m angered by the way that in a wealthy country like England, local authorities have been put in the position of having to cut services like libraries, relying more and more on volunteers to keep the system going. I feel that everyone is entitled to the kind of access I had to the world of litereature and culture, via the library system, as a child, when my parents certainly could not have provided all the books I wanted to read. What’s happening now is incredibly mean-spirited and short-sighted, and does not serve the future of the country well.

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