Thankyou Zadie Smith (see article) and all other authors in defence of libraries. Shame on Shaun Bailey for saying we don’t need them.
Here in Brent, six libraries are scheduled for closure but plans are currently being made for a brand new ‘cultural hub’ in place of Willesden Library – built as a new centre twenty years ago and included a cinema and café. Lack of investment or poor management has left the cinema and café abandoned. There is still a successful museum, art gallery and thriving bookshop. All these will go under the redevelopment which will see the small car park given to property developers to build more expensive boxes/’flats’ and the library squeezed into a corner surrounded by council offices. This is what they will be calling a ‘cultural hub’.
I remember the original Willesden Library, a small Victorian house that is still there and looks (see pic) like something out of a fairy story. It was crammed full of books both downstairs and upstairs with a huge selection of fiction and non fiction. I remember when that was regarded as too small hence needing redevelopment. Around the eighties, many libraries ‘redeveloped’ to try and keep up with the modern times, even then already seeing a steady seepage of library users away to TV, to films and the computer world we now inhabit. There were massive sales of books from libraries: those deemed too old, too tatty, too unpolitically correct. Many a bargain to be had. As the computers moved in so the books moved out even more.
I have visited many a new academy school where what used to be well stocked libraries have turned into computer rooms with an occasional shelf dotted with a few books. Yet when I visited my friend’s son’s private school recently, what a surprise it was to come across a sprawling suite of rooms all filled with well stocked book shelves and quiet tables to read and work on, just like the libraries of old.
There is a lot of talk about equal opportunities and social mobility but the cutting of libraries will see further erosion of these worthy aims.
Zadie is right to question the motives of this government in this wiping out of history. There will be one set of people who will rely on films, TV, Google and phone apps for their information and another set who will still have access to books. Google and Kindles can never quite replace books no matter how much they put on line. There will always be control over input. Remember the joy of finding a banned book or one not considered quite suitable for young minds?
I know that we are already at overload and choices always have to be made about the information we access but we all deserve to have the choice.