Are libraries what they once were?



As a kid, with my nose in a book, I was often to be found in a library. This would be while the cool kids were outside playing the football with the jumpers for goalposts or hanging around the public toilets in the park snuffling glue from distressed plastic bags.

There are still libraries these days of course, but they are not what they were. Hindsight is a wonderful Technicolor thing and I don’t want to make it sound like the book depositories of my provincial British childhood were like the fabled library of Alexandria while the current ones are like some charity shop bargain bin, so let’s not overstate the case. But …

Standards have fallen! (As elderly colonels say in letters to the Daily Telegraph).

Partly it’s due to changes in technology and changes in demand. The libraries of my youth had books – lots of them, And that’s all they had. Now, many of the shelves in the libraries I frequent are filled with DVDs and CDs, so there are fewer books. Less money to spend on them so less depth of coverage and a more narrow pipe of knowledge. It’s harder to find what you are looking for these days especially if, like me, you want to research some quite curious and rarefied stuff for a book.

There’s the whole other realm of the Internet now and libraries have transformed themselves into Internet hubs with banks of computers filling more space where books used to be. Do we deplore this? No, of course we don’t! Well done Tim Berners-Lee and everyone else involved. The Internet is entirely wonderful – but I think we know that it lacks the depth of coverage found in a good book.

Alexander Pope said:

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring.”

It’s ironic how few people know the second line of that couplet – but I digress.

So, purely in terms of availability of books, libraries have become more impoverished. We could say this is all because of the times – but there’s another reason, I speak of course of the budget cuts. Library closures and cutbacks are a ridiculously easy target when times are hard. Arts cuts generally are.

There’s a quote, possibly apocryphal, check it at your local library, which is attributed to Winston Churchill during the war. When asked to cut arts budgets he is said to have replied:

“Then what are we fighting for?”

Good libraries, well stocked with lots of quality books, are still of massive importance. Our culture and society needs them. it’s sad to see them corroded, and it’s a mistake.

What do you think about the way libraries are now, and what is the future for them?

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4 thoughts on “Are libraries what they once were?”

  1. A lot of the budget cuts were inevitable as you can see from our local ones in Gloucestershire. Instead of concentrating on their core reasons, we see bumps and bellies clubs, child minding, creches etc. IMO a very big mistake

    1. Yes, it does seem that some libraries have felt forced to develop more of a ‘community centre’ function to keep going and, though this may make them seem more useful and so save them from the axe, it does distract them from their core function.

  2. Our library is good if you want to use a computer and printer for an hour or so. It has a reasonable selection of books and it’s easy to order in another title from across the county. However, it’s no longer a place you can sit and work in because the council have used that space for other things.

    1. That’s a real shame – that space to work quietly or to read is very valuable I think – some people just don’t have it at home for one thing.

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