Saturday, February 5, 2011

We Are The People Closing Our Libraries

As my flesh has taken to rotting and my teeth and hair have begun making preparations for The Great Disgracing Bunjee, I’ve tried to avoid being drawn into political battles — especially on this fun (and possibly hip) blog.

I wasted too many hours of my twenties “opposing Thatcher” when I ought to have been getting on with something a little more productive than harrying the lackeys of a harridan.

My preference these days is for letting the wrong be wrong, allowing them the privilege of going to hell in a hand cart. People are generally quite useless at changing even the smallest aspects of their behaviour and opinions and when their chins are really set there’s very little point in someone like me coming along and making like a chiropractor — especially if I try my damnedest to “be firm”.

That said, I now find myself ever more distracted by rumblings from this country’s uppermost underbelly about What Has To Happen and What We Must All Do and, in spite of my better judgment, I set aside my biddable demons for a moment and permit myself a rare stare into the Abyss of monsters. Why, I could almost be Clint Eastwood in The Unforgiven.

If you’re here because you’re a writer, you’ll already be aware that today in the UK, protests will be taking place at libraries across the country — libraries that could soon be shut down.

Libraries, it seems, are no longer affordable.

But in order for this to be true, we have to believe it.

My question today is who, in this instance, is doing the believing?

It certainly isn’t library users. If I had the time, I would link to every news item, every comment trail on the net — and this post would run to a considerable number of alarming yards. As of now, there are 38,000 hits for “library closure” on Google, if you’re interested — and yes, I’ve confined my search to 2011. Drop into any link on any page and you will see real people, real concerns — kids who will lose their book club, pensioners who will lose access to information, public events that will cease to exist. What you may not find are people with nowhere to go, who sit in libraries keeping warm with a copy of The Sun scant yards from

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there.

I don’t suppose people working in the library departments of local councils are great believers in library closures either. As for their bosses, the people who control the purse strings, I suspect their role in all this will be akin to that of the loyal foot soldier forced by a masked coward to chop off the King’s head. For all its supposed Small Government aspirations, the coalition does seem to be gifting councils with powers of decision it might otherwise trust only to “the market” — the Cheshire Thumbs Up of the Invisible Hand, if you like. To be honest, it’s difficult to know whether the Government is for or against library closures. I haven’t seen any evidence of ministers planning to attend today’s protests — less so, writerly grandees like Jeffrey Archer who have benefited directly from the Public Lending Right — and until the papers are awash with headlines such as Cameron To Sanction Library Closures or Turns Out He Is A Cunt After All, I’m prepared to treat their silence as a mark of respect for these essential public spaces. I am, after all, an optimist rather than a cynic.

All of which kind of leaves me, in my search for believers in the unaffordability of libraries, with all the people who don’t actually use them, perhaps, or don’t have any direct influence over whether they stay or go, the people who resent their taxes being spent on services they don’t use themselves, the people who don’t care, the people who have no preference either way — in short, the people lining up outside libraries up and down the country even as I put the finishing touches to this post, all chanting WE HATE LIBRARIES and waving placards emblazoned with WASTE OF MONEY, WHO NEEDS BOKS?!! and KNOCK THE PLACE DOWN WE WANT ANOTHER SUBWAY.

Who else might it be?

Here ends this momentary cessation of winking, this stare into the Abyss of monsters. Do come back later in the week for Protrudio, news of Geoff’s latest furballs or more from the succinct-yet-pointless singular parrot of fiction.

I’m off into town now to support my local library. Just hope I can make it through the sea of angry protesters throwing Molotovs at the wheelchair access ramp.


Scarlet Blue said...

Good luck, Mr Whirly. Could you help to save the NHS whilst your there... or maybe Tesco's could take over libraries and the NHS?

Old Kitty said...

I have to say I wet myself laughing at the image of imaginary library-haters with their hilarious placards!!!!!

Here in Herts, the council is going out of its way to say "We love our libraries and will not close them. We will however reduce their opening times. So now your wonderful libraries' opening hours are 2-7 pm Monday to Friday. Amen".

Take care

stacy said...

I do hope your libraries make it through this unscathed, Whirl. If anyone can stop them from closing, it's you. Fingers crossed.

Phoenix said...

Are authors and publishers willing to take a hit in the UK? In the US, we don't have a Public Lending Right that pays the author/publisher for a ballpark number of times a book is loaned out. The creatives get money only from the sale of each physical book, and the library is treated no different from any other customer buying a copy of the book.

Of course, many of our libraries are also in trouble, too, from reduced hours to consolidating smaller libraries to closures. So screwing the creatives isn't always the answer.

jjdebenedictis said...

I could only blither and spit about how angry this issue makes me, so I will refrain--especially since it isn't my nation and my blithering spittle won't help.

But thank you for addressing this issue and trying to help change opinion. Vive les bibioteques!

Whirlochre said...

Don't get me started on the NHS.

Old Kitty
2-7 is a lot better than 'not at all' I suppose.

As for placards, seems like most of them were being waved by an invigorated EDL.

If only I had the secret powers at which you hint.

Seems like an epidemic of unreason.

Vauxhall Vive les biblioteques.


OK, I'm done politicking for now. Back to the knob jokes...

McKoala said...

I'm a library fanatic, could not afford to read otherwise, 'cos I read so fast. And I take the kids down with me all the time. They really like it down there, even if they spend more time on the Playstation than picking out books - they usually come home with something new to read.

This may not be the most accurate quotage, it's been a while, but here's some appropriate Hopkins back atcha:

Margaret are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving
Leaves like the things of man
You care for, can you?
Ah, but as the heart grows older
It comes to such sights colder
Yet never gives a sigh...

McKoala said...

Oh, and I'm single handedly financing the New South Wales libraries with the size of my fines. I tend to mislay things...

Simon Kewin said...

If the libraries goes, civilisation won't be far behind.

I must say I see evidence of this "Big Society" everywhere : in the form of people getting together opposition to library closures, opposition to forests being sold off, opposition to NHS privatisation etc. etc. It's all doing wonders for bringing people closer together and getting them to act. Is that what the government meant?

Simon Kewin said...

PS. Sorry missed out a word there. Ah well, you know what I mean.

Mother (Re)produces. said...

Switzerland doesn't really have a library culture. The public library in the town of Berne (that's Berne, the capital of Switzerland. Yeah. *that* Berne.) is about the size of my high school library. And there is only the one. Some schools have scruffy little public libraries attached to them.

I wonder if it's not a case of they won't realise what they had till it's gone, these boneheaded library closers...

Peter Dudley said...

Our family tends to buy rather than borrow our books--except for the kids, because, like snow boots it makes little sense to buy something they'll grow out of so quickly, if you can borrow or rent them the one time a year you need them.

That said, for me the existence of libraries is a statement of humanity in the same way that the existence of churches is not. Libraries, at least in the US, are far more than a place to mooch a book, or listen to a tape which teaches you how to say "potato soup" in German, or rack up late fees. They are a symbol of diversity, openness, reverence for knowledge and culture and art. They are places that eschew judgment and invite curiosity.

Remember those enormous, ancient statues that the Taliban tore down in Afghanistan? Like billions of other people, I never saw them and was never going to see them. But their destruction was a tragedy for us all anyway.

Closing libraries in the zealous worship of the dollar (or pound or whatever) would be a little like that. We had a local city council election recently where one candidate ran on the platform that the town needed more police and fewer libraries. THANK GOD HE LOST.

Simon Kewin said...


Words of wisdom. my friend.

fairyhedgehog said...

The thing about libraries is that they are really good if you're hard up. You can spend two hours online for free at our local library; and you can read anything they've got in stock for free. You do have to pay if you "reserve" a book, i.e. order it in but it costs less than buying it.

You also get access to people who know all about books and research.

And you can test drive a book if you're not sure you want to buy it.

If have broadband at home and loads of dosh to buy books and loads of space to store them and never need help with researching anything, then libraries are irrelevant.

Who are these people?

Whirlochre said...

As ever, all the action has taken place while I've been piddling about elsewhere. That'll teach me for developing an interest in backcombing the hair on girafe's thighs...

McKoala I & II
I bet they open the place up specially for you.

Welcome to the comments trail.

Personally, I think we might be in for Big Trouble — to have the students out on the streets at this stage is quite an achievement.

I rather like the sound of a Swiss library.

Glad you agree. The existence of libraries matters even if you use them infrequently — that's the plus point of a shared service. One thing is for certain: if they get uninvented, it will be a bugger of a job trying to invent them again.

Libre Hog
That's exactly it — people who don't need libraries being unable to see the POV of those who do. More of this is in the offing, I fear.

Thanks for chipping in, all. back to the fur balls and the custard soon...

Sylvia said...

I have to admit, I have not been to a library for years. But my son uses them incessantly (THANK GOD because I truly could not afford books at the rate that he reads them). But tomorrow I'm going to the local library (I'm in Herts again) and getting a library card just to spite the placard-bearing-heathens.

Also, it gets me free online access to the OED. ;)

fairyhedgehog said...

@Sylvia: my library card won't work on the OED website. Maybe my library is one of those that doesn't subscribe.