Libraries, leave those books alone, by Ali Bacon
I’ve never been one of those who ‘can’t bear to throw away a book.’ At one time it did go against the grain, because in my childhood books were treasures per se. We had lots at home, none were ever discarded, and quite a few of them have graduated to family heirlooms. But these days I keep a new book for a while, then, unless I’ve formed a particular attachment to it (a not unusual occurrence!) or think I might reread it or recommend it to a friend, out it goes.
I think this pragmatic approach stems from my career in university and college libraries, where weeding outdated material was a vital part of making room for new stock and the sight of an eager student or parent arriving with an armful of donations they couldn’t bear to chuck out was rarely a matter for rejoicing. (I also had feverish teachers noticing books in the skip and bringing them back to me. And yes, we had looked at every possible option for passing them on elsewhere, but really who needs an out of date textbook?) So I’m unsentimental about books. But I’m a private citizen. My collection is governed by my own taste and resources. Anyway, if I need that book again, I can always get it from the library. Or can I?
A couple of weeks ago,
announced a moratorium on book-buying, apparently because it has thrown too
much money at its new Library of Birmingham building. I’ve certainly experienced the occasional
freeze on purchasing, but in one of our biggest library authorities? Surely
something has gone badly wrong.
|The new Library of Birmingham. (*see credit)|
It’s not that I object to libraries being centres for other activities, so I’m happy that LoB (strapline ‘Rewriting the book’) can offer a Google Digital Garage and Afternoon Tea for two, especially if they rake in some income, but it would be good to think that these are add-ons, not replacements for offering kids and grown-ups who don’t have digital media (or the money to visit a bookshop) access to the yet-to-be-bettered technology of the physical book.
Of course it’s not just
Birmingham. From the noughties onwards
libraries have been fighting to maintain their identity in new partnerships.some of which work better than others. South Glos libraries come under the umbrella brand of of Active Leisure. This has its advantages. Bradley Stoke Library benefits from being next
door to the leisure centre (that is swimming pool and sports halls, in case
we’ve forgotten that bit of newspeak) and where I live the small branch
library is an important community resource where all kinds of things go on
including a Memory Café for dementia sufferers, craft groups and, yes, book
But I sometimes wonder as I browse the fiction section how limited the book stock is becoming. Even books by mainstream authors have to be ordered up from elsewhere in the region, and as for classics, if you decide it’s time you got down to Dickens, Hardy or Trollope, you’ll be lucky to find much of a choice. And I’ve just been on a trip to Springfield Community Campus in Corsham (details of upcoming book salehere), which turns out to comprise, yes, library and leisure centre. ‘Campus,’ if slightly misleading to my literal mind, at least buys into the idea of learning, and it’s all in a spanking new building. But as my companion remarked as we cast a wistful eye over the colourful displays of videos and magazines, ‘there aren’t actually that many books here, are there?’
|Bristol Reference Library. Worth preserving.|
After a bit of a rumpus, the historic Bristol Central Library has leased its basement floor to
who are going to
convert it into their primary department, thus ensuring this great old building
will survive a while longer. But what about the cost in terms of books? The second-handbook sale is already under way. I admit to feeling a chill run along my spine. I’m sure I
can trust the library professionals not to chuck out anything valuable. But something doesn’t feel quite
right. Apart from anything else, quite a few of the library requests I've made this year (none of them particularly obscure) had the location ‘Bristol Central
Store.’ How many of them will find their way to the new bookstore and how many deemed surplus to requirements? But never mind me. I can sort myself out. I'm more worried for those who can't. Bristol Cathedral
Library usage has certainly dropped off, but does that mean we don’t need libraries? I don’t think so, and I don’t just mean they should persist as online learning centres or the social spaces which many of them have become. The internet is a wonderful thing, but e-technology is a largely unknown quantity. For many people books are the preferred medium for reading and learning. So why should we persuade them out of their allegiance to something that has worked for centuries? And there will be people out there of all ages, tech-savvy or otherwise - who have still to discover how books can transform their lives. It’s not going to happen if these people are never exposed to the kind of library experience we used to take for granted.
Yes, I’m talking books.
Rewrite them by all means, but don’t throw them all away.