Saturday, February 5, 2011

Save Libraries

I love libraries. As far as I'm concerned there is nothing more exciting than walking into a room filled to the brim of ancient texts and writings from all over the world. Well, that's not true. Rollercoasters are more exciting. As is the new series of Doctor Who. But you know what I mean. Libraries are brilliant. Recently walking into the Long Room at Dublin's Trinity College, I was in awe of the big oak paneled hall, lined with spines written in ancient fonts. Same happens whenever I step into the British library, or in fact any library that's well stocked. It feels like you could just take any book off the wall and delve into the past - thousands of words written for a purpose or to tale a tale, that have been trapped within those covers for years and years. Sure many are actually encyclopedias or dull index books, and in the big libraries you can't just look at them without a special bit of paper and non-greasy hands. I never have either of those. Throughout my life though libraries have been incredibly useful to me. I saw a Button Moon puppet show at Hanley Road library aged 3 which pretty much made my life, even if occasionally Mr Spoon seemed to have a thumb protruding from his leg. Then the same library became the source of many a graphic novel, fantasy, fiction or audio borrow - one 2000AD compilation still, ahem, sitting on my shelf now. I can only imagine what sort of fine that's incurred and I would like to publicly say I'm very sorry about such things, but 12 year old me was a rascal. I'll bring it back next week. Maybe.

What I'd have done without Crouch End, Haringay and my university library in terms of studying and passing my exams, or even just finding somewhere very quite to work, I'm really not sure. Ok, so I'm a tad old and the internet wasn't quite what it is now when I was at school, which may have changed some aspects of learning, but at least libraries didn't have the procrastinary options of switching to Facebook or Twitter every two minutes instead of actually ploughing on with my essay. Instead I'd grow very quickly bored with doodling on my notepad and get straight back to absorbing information. All I'm saying is I have a fond spot for such places and still occasionally pop into one to write a few notes or a bit of stand-up knowing I won't be interrupted or forced to drink so much coffee my eyes try to leave my face. Yes, the counter arguments will contest, but your local library doesn't have many books, only has one table that is constantly sat upon by a man who has plastic bags filled with things you never want to know about or see, and constantly smells a bit of wee, so what use is it to anyone?

Well, here's the thing. All those problems with it - being understocked, under furnished and er, smelling of wee - have all come into play ever since the government many moons ago stopped taking an interest in libraries being a public source of learning and information. In many an ancient civilisation the library was a treasured source of knowledge for the future, but this appears to have been a sideline thought in every government since Thatcher, each capitalist government knowing full well those buildings would make lovely offices or flats. So far every argument against it is all to do with the lack of use of libraries, which is mostly down to how depleted they've become over the years. When I was recently in Norway the Tromso library looked like this:

Hella cool huh? The shelves were filled with books, it also had free internet and the whole place was constantly buzzing with people going in and out to further their minds. So you can argue that libraries have no use, but I'd say its more that crap, uncared for libraries have no use. That doesn't mean they should be shut down, it just means we need to be putting our attentions back into the things that make society a nice place to be. One of the other arguments for the proposal to close the 450 libraries across the UK, is that by saving them, they will have to make other cuts that affect the elderly. Again, this is another way of passing the blame. Make us feel guilty for elderly suffering because we want our public resources kept open, when in fact we should be blaming the government for making all these unnecessary cuts in the first place will the banks still dish out bonuses. We shouldn't feel guilty for any of these oppressive rules. The Prime Minister and his cohorts should.

Sorry, today's blog seems to have lost all humour, but I just can't find most of these proposed moves that funny. I like having public forests to walk in and feel like I've escaped the city, I like that the post office, despite all its crapness, is our national institution and I like that I can walk into any library across the country and find a quiet corner to scribble or rifle through reams of archived words, reading random passages from whatever I find interesting. I have had horrible flashbacks of passages from Michel Houellebecq's The Possibility Of An Island, which I read the actual book of, with pages and everything. The central character lives in an era where he sits inside his own individual pod, connected to the world, but never leaving his own little shell, until one day he breaks free to see the world around him. Its an ace book, and well worth a read. I just don't want to be forced into being stuck at my computer all day long, looking at pictures of forests I used to be able to walk in, getting sore eyes from trying to read books online and paying £25 to send a letter across London. Ok, so I'm over exaggerating. I never send letters. We have email. Oh god. Its already happening.....

That all got waylaid at the end. One day I'll be able to spout my views on things in a more coherent manner. For now, ignore the bit about Mr Spoon's thumb foot. I'm sure it didn't really happen. And if you do care about your local library then do go along today and whenever you can to prove these places are still needed before you find that that previous hive of information becomes a few Ikea spinning chairs and the sort of people who revel in work that really doesn't add to anyone's quality of life except their own.

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