From Jubilee Library’s position as the 5th most visited public library in the country to Hollingbury Library’s Baby Boogie sessions and Patcham’s Library’s monthly book group, libraries are a crucial part of the fabric of our society.
The children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman, summed up the importance of libraries brilliantly in a comment piece last year, writing: “Libraries are the best literary resource we have. For children they provide an equaliser that allows everyone access to books, story-telling sessions, homework clubs; expert librarians who give non-partisan assistance and advice regarding books; and warm and safe environments within which to discover and explore the world of literature”.
Libraries are open to anyone and this in particular benefits people who might otherwise not develop a love of reading. They are an indispensable tool in helping people to further their education and knowledge of the world around them; and an “emergency exit” to other worlds, as Caitlin Moran put it in her wonderful ‘Libraries: Cathedrals of our Souls’ article. All of this has been enhanced by the advent of the internet - I was delighted when the Council confirmed plans to install wi-fi in Patcham Library this year (something I’d been pushing for).
At the very least, our libraries are a much loved and much needed public service. And yet figures from April 2011 at least 254 libraries have been closed or taken out of local authority control nationwide. And a study by the Library Campaign has also predicted that between 2009 and 2016, more than 1,000 libraries will have been closed. Of those libraries that remain open, more and more are being forced to reduce their opening hours.
I’ve lobbied Ministers on a number of occasions about proper central Government funding being made available so that local councils can protect local libraries from closure. And just last week I added my name to a new parliamentary Early Day Motion that recognises libraries best benefit our society when they are well-funded. All of us lose out otherwise, so I think it’s worth remembering on the occasion of National Libraries Day 2014 just what a damaging effect austerity is having on our precious public services.