A trip down memory lane
As a child I loved going to the library. It gave me access to an endless supply of books, both fiction and reference materials. I loved reading and learning about new things. One of my earliest book memories is Christmas morning and opening a big present which was a Children’s Encyclopedia. I actually still own it but it was so loved and well read that now its in a very delicate state. I had one book I could devour at home, but the library was this massive room full of books where I could be lost for the day – so much choice, so much to read.
During the week I spent all my spare time in the school library; but weekends or holidays were meant for trips to the town library. Even when my mum wanted me to go outside “to play”, the compromise was a deckchair at the front door where I would be found nose in book.
I’m not sure where or why my love of writing disappeared as a child, but I don’t remember it being encouraged very much. However, as I rediscover that passion, I find myself reminiscing about libraries and reflecting upon their importance to writers and readers. I also wonder if public libraries will survive the budget cuts being imposed by our governments and councils (I’m assuming this is not simply a feature of public sector cuts in the UK) and if they can be saved, how the libraries need to change to be relevant in the 21st century.
In a time when libraries, along with other public services, are finding their budgets cut, they need to consider how to pay for the services they provide. This is combined with an increasing demand for their services and facilities, with a range of factors contributing to this surge in demand:
- People who are struggling financially are visiting libraries to use as a warm space when they can’t afford to heat their homes
- Employees who are able to work from home but don’t have the facilities or as above, can’t heat their homes, are using library facilities to work
- With inflation driving up costs so much, more people are using the lending facilities at a time when libraries need to consider reducing the amount of new books they buy, so reducing supply.
Recognising that many in the local communities are experiencing economic hardship, there are examples of libraries becoming a hub by running food banks, clothing collection and distribution points and over the winter months, becoming Council run warm spaces for people who can’t afford to heat their homes.
If funding cuts are inevitable and costs increase, these two factors make it much more difficult for libraries to continue to deliver their services. I’m not sure what the answer is, certainly in the UK it would not be normal for council libraries to charge for their services. Solutions could include becoming a social/community hub and accessing other funding or council libraries could merge with schools and other educational establishments and share resources. Linked to the idea of foodbanks and warm spaces, the libraries could open up cafes within the facilities, the income from which would help support the libraries.
The Library of the Future
Despite my nostalgia for the libraries of my childhood, typically I don’t work from libraries today. We have so much information at the tap of the keyboard and although I like hard copy books, we do also have so many books available in electronic format too. Am I simply holding onto memories, or should we, should I be making more and better use of the facilities too?
The changes that are outlined above demonstrate how the libraries are changing and adapting to the needs of their communities, but to survive in the 21st Century they need to ensure they are fit for purpose. They need to be community hubs, providing a range of facilities rather than simply being a repository for books.
To ensure survival, libraries need to become learning resource centres providing:
- Books, including e-books
- Access to wifi
- Computer access along with other electronic and digital resources
- space for quiet work – particularly as employees are working from library facilities as well as students
- space for group work, where they can discuss their projects etc without disturbing others
- A community space – where perhaps community groups can hold meetings, run classes etc in the library (my local library hires out some of its rooms)
As I was working on this post I renewed my membership to my local library online. Do we need a library today? I definitely think we do for the community, to provide a focus for communities. However, as a writer, do we need the library? I’m not sure, but I can imagine me packing a bag and finding a quiet spot surrounded by research books, notebooks and pens as I draft future blog posts. I guess the library still has a place in my heart.
What about you? How do you feel about our libraries?