Monday, 25 July 2011

Public Libraries: are we being sentimental?

Public libraries figured quite largely in my life until I went to University in 1965.

I borrowed books from Dartford Public Library into my teens, a mix of cheap pleasures ( Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner) and the self - improving (Hemingway, Ibsen, Steinbeck, Strindberg), not only borrowed but read. But I also bought books: there was a W H Smith by the bus stop in Bromley where I queued after school and from about the age of 14 (1961) I bought Penguins. Yevtushenko's Poems must have been one of the first ("Over Babi Yar there are no memorials...") but more often books on politics and economics and Penguin Specials.

Later, in 1964, preparing for my Oxford Scholarship exams, I read my own copy of Marx's Capital (well, the first volume) in the reference library cum reading room in Erith Public Library. I also recall struggling with some archaic Maths textbook which was on an Oxford reading list which probably hadn't changed since the War.

My mother was depressed and I needed to get out of the house if I was to be able to concentrate. In vacations, when I was not working, I went to the Public Library for the same reason.

So I ought to be in favour of public libraries. To be honest, I'm indifferent. They seem obsolete. I live within two hundred meters of a public library which was Saved From Closure a few years ago thanks to a campaign led by Christopher Hawtree, now one of Brighton's Green councillors. New Labour wanted to sell off the fine Victorian building. They thought it would make a spendid restaurant or night club.

I never go into this Library. I buy the books I want to read and, since I no longer have a University affiliation, I use the Internet as a research tool: for this purpose, the Internet is terrific.

I think children should have access to good libraries, but they could have that in school. If we closed public libraries but passed on some of their funding, there is no reason why school libraries should not be open on Saturdays too.

Everyone who is capable of using a public library should also be capable of using a computer. If older people do need help getting used to computers, which is debateable anyway, then adult education can provide cheap or free classes.

I like Internet cafes and think it's a pity that they are disappearing because everyone now has a computer of their own which they can take into the nearest coffee shop. Maybe my Public Library could be turned into a Municipal Coffee Shop and Internet cafe. The only problem might be the quality of the Municipal Coffee; they would use UHT milk.

For those who like reading romantic fiction and such like, there are the charity shops offering a large range at pennies rather than pounds.

As for the scholarship boys seeking refuge from their homes, I don't know what they do now. If they are still in the reading rooms of public libraries,then I might change my mind.

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