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?