Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Libraries are about more than books

The BBC is talking lots today about libraries. The Government has talked about reviewing library services and Cornwall is one of the areas which is piloting ideas for running library services in a different way. What this means is unclear from the press release (I've asked for details).

But almost all the coverage to date has been about borrowing novels. That may be a fundamental part of what a library does, but it is far from being the only thing. So whilst you can put bookshelves in pubs or even in red phone boxes (as BBC Radio Cornwall suggested this morning), that does not make them libraries.

Libraries are also about information. They have newspapers and reference books and, across Cornwall, free access to the internet and assistance to show infrequent browsers how to use them.

And libraries are also about promoting reading and learning. I know that across Cornwall the librarians do a great job on this but I'd like to single out Jesse Foot in Bodmin Library. He and his team put on very large numbers of special events in the library itself for younger readers - including a very special Dr Who day. They also run groups for other groups and do lots of outreach work.

Which leads me to my next point - using volunteers and others in our libraries. One of the ideas that has been put about is that we should hand libraries over to volunteers to run. I think that many of the functions that are currently being done by trained librarians could be done by volunteers - issuing books, stacking shelves and so on. But this should not be done so that we can get rid of librarians. It should be done to free librarians to do the work that they are trained and qualified to do - promoting reading and literacy and helping people to find information.


Jo said...

What a great testimonial to libraries in your area! I could not agree with you more. Librarians help library users sort through the large quantity of information which is now available. When everyone thinks that the Internet has all the answers (and it does have some great resources, doesn't it?), isn't it nice to have someone to help evaluate the authentic from the "not-so-reliable"?

David said...

As a librarian myself you may assume correctly that I have a lot to say about the topic. However I'll try to compress some of my opinions into this tiny box that I'm compelled to type into.

There have always been libraries for almost as long as there has been books. However the branch libraries that we all know and love in our towns has their origin in the 1850 Libraries Act which provided a modicum of impetus to the provision of free literature to the new industrial classes, for their edification and improvement. Boy did those Victorians know how to patronise!

Here in Launceston we have a prime example of that in our former library the Passmore Edwards building. Please note this philanthropic edifice was not built in the more middle class parts of town but amidst a more industrial area within whiff of coal smoke from the new railway and Bates foundry in Tredydon Road.

From this beginning to the state of libraries of today we have long passed our hey days of the inter war years. Books to buy now are cheaper than ever before, they are sold in a greater number of retail outlets form Amazon to Tesco.

However when I try to get another customer to join my library I often hear them exclaim that they have too little time to read. It is no accident that the post war period that reading has declined as a leisure activity. In every household across the land a solution is simple, all you have to do is pick up a brick go into your living room and throw it through that screen that will surely be there. Don't mind the kids they can learn to read too!