Our lovely new volunteer, Christina Lee, makes the case for one of our most important public services.
On Monday, The Guardian published an article on the imminent closure of 340 public libraries in the next five years if funding cuts are implemented.
This is sad news for all of us. Cutting funding for libraries may save some money for the next few years, but in the long run, this will have devastating effects on society as a whole. We need libraries to stimulate children’s love of reading and engagement in the community, and to give students from low income families, adult learners, and recent immigrants the chance to access the resources they need to improve their skills and opportunities.
I remember fondly the times when I was a thirteen-year-old, scouring through the bookshelves for classics like George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. My parents didn’t go to university, and there were never any books around the house. The library was my only source of pleasure. Without it, I would never have fallen in love with literature, and never would have managed get my degree from Oxford. It’s up to those of us who have benefited from the services of public libraries to protect this national treasure for the next generation.
History of the library
The history of the library goes all the way back to early eighteenth-century with the rise of the literary industries of publishers and booksellers. While books were still expensive to buy, circulating libraries were very popular during the 1700s and well into the nineteenth-century.
The most famous of these was Mudie’s Circulating Library, which allowed readers, for a yearly subscription of a guinea, to borrow and enjoy unlimited number of fashionable novels. The Mechanics’ Institute, which first started in the 1820s, was a kind of Victorian ‘polytechnic adult learning centre’. It had libraries particularly for working class men and made scientific knowledge accessible to ordinary people.
The public library was the result of the Public Libraries Act of 1850, which enabled local boroughs to create free libraries for public education. The idea was to give people somewhere else to spend their leisure time other than at the pub.
More than books in a quiet room
Today the library is more than just a place to borrow books. In Medway we are very fortunate to have libraries that are still flourishing. At our local Rochester Library, there are regular reading groups for all ages and readers, IT sessions, language classes, playgroups, and of course regular literature festival events. There are accessible audio books and large prints, CDs and accessibility software for disabled users. The Community Hub provides help with council services and the Medway Adult Community Learning Service offers a range of courses from pottery to certificates in teaching in schools. The library remains the heart of the community and in times of austerity, libraries are more important than ever.
How you can help
While you may still enjoy the occasional pint, here’s what you can do to save our libraries from extinction.
- Show your appreciation. Visit the library regularly; attend reading groups. More people using libraries will show councils how indispensable libraries still are.
- Make your voice heard. Let your MP know how much you value your local library; join campaigns to save libraries under threat.
- Share your stories. Tell people what the library means to you in blogs, Twitter, Instagram, or anywhere you can.
- Get involved. Volunteer at the library, attend festivals and talks. Funding cuts mean that libraries are struggling to continue services with limited resources. Everything little helps!
You can find Christina and share your love of all things literary @cyj_Lee on Twitter.