People are obsessed with books. Reading, yes, but also books as tactile objects. To hold, to carry around, to gaze upon, to smell the pages of (it’s not just me, I’ve seen other people do it too).
What does paradise look like to these people? Hogwarts library of course. Or, let’s be honest, any library. With shelves upon shelves of beautiful old books, big comfy armchairs to sink into, one of those death-trap ladders that Belle swishes around on in Beauty and the Beast, and maybe a cat too. The most important thing is the books though.
There are memes and articles about this. Buzzfeed, Pinterest, Reddit, TED talks – they all explain the magic of library collections, collate photos of the most beautiful libraries in the world, congratulate the most elaborate reading-dens, share artists that turn books into sculptures. They illustrate the indisputable fact that for a species obsessed with storytelling, the book has become our totem.
Yet somehow, our libraries are closing.
The BBC are investigating, and have run a couple of stories recently on the cuts and closures that school libraries and those for the general public are facing. Apparently almost 8,000 jobs in UK libraries have disappeared in the last six years, about a quarter of the overall total. Staff are being replaced rather than supplemented by volunteers, and a third of secondary schools have had cuts of 40% or more since 2010, with 20% redundancies in library staff at their school. The Telegraph have noticed as well, highlighting official statistics such as that there are 14 million fewer books available in libraries than when David Cameron took office in 2010, and The Guardian ran an article a few months ago about the most notable threats to libraries – and the efforts that went into trying to save them.
The first library I was a member of was terrible, but I still loved it. It was a tiny, run-down building with peeling paint and an idiosyncratic collection of children’s literature, and after learning to read aged four I’d worked my way through the whole library within a couple of years. I still have a nebulous, sensory memory of the anticipation a visit would instil in my smaller self though, and that really never left me. In fact, I still remember all the libraries I have frequented ever since, including the mobile library that brought romance novels to my gran once a month in rural Cornwall. That’s gone now as well.
What do you think, should we be saving our libraries? Aside from the pleasure we get from them, international evidence suggests a positive correlation between good school libraries and student attainment. Bear in mind also that children and elderly people are being worst affected by these cuts, so even if you’re no longer a library member yourself they’re still desperately needed. For more info on how to help take a look at The Library Campaign’s website, an independent charity that sends evidence to government consultations and regularly meets and corresponds with the national bodies responsible for libraries.