Since 2010, 850 libraries have closed across the country and there’s more and more shutting up shop everyday. For someone who loves a place filled with books about anything, a place where there’s no time limit on browsing and a one stop shop for imagination top ups, this is scandalous- yes I said scandalous!
With this much goodness in a building, why are these pockets of literary heaven on the decline? Here are some facts collated from the reading agency:
Libraries in the UK (data from 2019-20)
- There are 3,667 public libraries (including mobile libraries) in the UK.
- There are 7.3 million active borrowers at libraries in the UK.
- 214 million visits to public libraries took place across the year, with an additional 131 million total online visits.
- Libraries issue almost 165 million books a year.
- There are 14,925 staff working in public libraries.
- There were 50,128 volunteers working in libraries in 2019-20
- 64% of 5-10-year-olds and 58% 11-15-year-olds visited the library in the last year.
You would think with these staggering figures (214 million visits!!!) libraries would be on the up, not down.
Why Do We Need Libraries?
Books are expensive, even £1 ones from charity shops can add up when you’re devouring the escapism of romance, sci-fi and thrillers. Children’s books are even more expensive. Losing libraries means losing book lovers. An hour spent in a library flitting from section to section, picking up books on travel, biology, knitting and music is an hour spent expanding the mind, dipping into worlds you can only dream of, experiencing lives you’ll never live. Children are given the freedom to be who they want to be whilst immersed in a library book. Sitting on the teeny tiny chairs in the children’s section, looking at words and pictures of the hundreds of books on tap is relaxing, engaging and most of all imagination inducing. Taking away libraries is fettering those emerging imaginations.
We Have The Internet Now
That old debate about books v ebooks rages on, but even with the introduction of ebooks and access to them online, they usually cost. A library costs nothing more than the physical effort to get yourself there. Borrowing books is free and as long as you stick within the rental time, it’s still free.
Neil Gaiman summed it up perfectly, when he wrote:
‘libraries are one of the few places you are allowed to exist without the expectation of spending money’.
For those in search of the super highway all libraries nowadays have computers and access to the internet, so that people who don’t have it at home can stay in touch. There’s also music, films and a reference section that helps people access information needed for jobs, legal advice or staying in touch with people.
Yes, we have the internet now, but people still like books with pages that turn. Children like books with pictures and many libraries hold storytime sessions and toddler groups, introducing socialising opportunities.
Is There an Alternative?
In my mind the simple answer is NO! A library is a hub for more than just reading. It’s a safe zone, where time stands still. I can’t think of many other places of business where the clientele ranges from 0-100yrs, with each one being as important as the other. If we lose libraries we lose the heart of many communities too. The library notice board, a place where jobs, accomodation, slimming groups and dog walkers can be found, is an integral part of many a village.
What Can We Do?
The good news is, you can help. In your local library you can fill in a comment card saying what you like about it, how often you go there etc. The local councils are obliged to listen to the constituents and if people are actively using the library then the arguments for closure will be weak. If your local library is under threat of closure, get together as a group and contact your local MP- they work for you remember. You have a voice, so make yourself heard. The best thing you can do though is to get yourself down there with a strong bag, fill up your library card with volumes of wonder and read, read and read some more.