An argument has reemerged in the past few days about the continued value of libraries. The ‘argument’ being a man on Twitter voicing a wrong opinion. That opinion being that librarians are sad people who can’t find other means of gainful employment and that no adults use libraries. Therefore we should move all the books to schools and shut all the public libraries.
Twitter has already rounded on poor wee Andre Walker who seems suitably chastised, tweeting an acknowledgement that he was mistaken. But I hadn’t followed the story that far when I poured out my thoughts on the issue this morning, so I’m going to go ahead and post my feelings on libraries, secure in the knowledge that pretty much everyone I know (plus 110,000 internet people) agree with me.
First of all, yes children use libraries. They are instrumental in schools, and when else are they handy for children? In the summer holidays, when the schools are shut. When the weather is worse than it was in May or it will be in September, and caregivers need a way to entertain their charges. I am privileged that that my parents and child-minder were comfortable going to the library and encouraged me to read. I am lucky I was happy to go along with it. I don’t actually want to talk about the reading aspect of things too much today though. What was just as important was the space, which was free and sheltered from the elemental Scottish summers. Where I could read. And the wee ones could play with the toys. And the big ones could browse the videos and CDs. And the boys could play muffled games of tig around the aisles. That’s what libraries provided outside of term time: somewhere to go.
That doesn’t end after school. Which is why so many adults also use libraries, and they do, habitually. Our towns and cities aren’t purely civic spaces. They are places of commerce where having a sit down out of the rain comes at the price of a cup of tea. Fifteen times the price of a cup of tea compared to making it at home. The only other spaces I can think of are churches and museums. But not everyone feels comfortable going into a church, and even if you do, you can’t do your photocopying there. Museums are good places to spend time in, but they’re not designed to let you set up shop and prep for an interview.
Which is why we need libraries. Yes, for books, but also for the computers to fill out job applications. For the desks to spread out newspapers on. For the wifi and quiet to study outside of a formal education environment. For the community noticeboards offering skills and advice and company. To print out boarding passes as well as check out some holiday reading. So that when you shut your front door behind you, you’ve got somewhere to go.
Spaces where no-one is going to question your right to be there, regardless of age or gender, skin colour or accent, the money in your wallet, your employment status or level of education, are rare. Therefore they are very, very precious.