An Ode to Libraries

I’m leaving my current job at the end of November. It’s the usual mix of emotions. A high of optimism that the new job will be much better than the current one. The lows of leaving behind some brilliant colleagues and friends.

This time however, I’ve got a different pang of regret to deal with. Leaving behind a library. Weird? Probably. But let me explain.

I write in the library opposite my office every lunchtime. The hour is blocked out in my calendar. It’s non-negotiable. Two and bit years on, it is a well established habit.

But the time I spend in the library has become much more than just my writing time. Over the last two years, I’ve become part of a community in there. And now more than ever, I’ve realised what an important role a library plays in so many people’s lives.

A vast cohort of people visit the library on a daily basis, ranging from toddlers with their parents to the elderly attending reading groups and other social activities. A library isn’t a place of silent, sombre study – its a social hub. As I’ve written on my lunch hour, I’ve overheard book club discussions and choirs practising. For a while, there was even a piano by the entrance that people could come and play for free. Some of them were really good!

Upstairs, the free internet access computers are all in use, people using them to pay bills, search for jobs or to stay in touch with friends. Perhaps I’m speaking from a position of privilege here but I never realised what a vital commodity an internet connection is and how many people wouldn’t have access to one without the library. The library is their lifeline.

Yet now more than ever, libraries teeter on the brink of extinction. The one I write in has days where it closes early. Soon it will have days where it doesn’t open at all. The services are deemed unnecessary by a cruel and spiteful government that needs to put a number or financial figure on everything it touches. This government is incapable of empathy for anyone other than the rich or the powerful.

Libraries are judged on a number of things. Namely, how many books are taken out. They are also judged statistically on things such as how many computer printouts they charge for. None of this accurately reflects the impact libraries have on people’s lives and it certainly doesn’t reflect the footfall of people who use the facility every single day.

I’ll wrap this up with a little story about one of the regulars in the library. We’ll call him Mr P. He’s an elderly guy who lives locally. Lives alone. He goes into the library every day. Some days he will read books at one of the tables. Other days he might play the piano. Some days he does research on the computers. Regardless, he’s there every day. He knows the staff and they know him. They’ll make him a brew or grab him some lunch.

When he turns up late, the staff start to worry. They wonder where Mr P is. They phone his house. There’s even been times a member of staff has popped round to check on him.

Mr P has no family in the area and has never engaged Adult’s Social Care as he has no needs beyond the need for company.

Without the library, this man would be left abandoned and alone with little to no human contact on a day to day basis.

He doesn’t loan out books or print anything off so statistically, he contributes nothing to the library but six days a week it is the centre of his world. With further cuts to these vital services, they won’t survive much longer. We can’t let that happen.

Here’s how you can help.

1 – Use your library. Pop in. Check it out. Sign up. Borrow books. Hell, you don’t even need to read them, just borrow some (I’m kidding. Definitely read them.) Get those numbers up. Show the decision makers that the library is in use.

2 – Use your vote. This vicious government won’t stop at cutting libraries. Social care and the health service are already on the brink. Another five years of this government will cripple them beyond repair. It’s time for a change before these treasured public services disappear for good and leave so many vulnerable and needy people isolated and on the brink.

I’m not sure I intended this to become a political rant but until you’ve seen the impact of a place like a library or a children’s centre in action, it’s hard to quantify just how vital they are.

Find your local library. Take your kids or tell a friend. Borrow a book. Keep libraries going for everyone.