Has anyone seen my bicycle lock? I may need it shortly, to chain myself to the front of our local library. It’s one of five local facilities that are under threat of closure in a bid to save money.
I understand the need for austerity measures, really I do. But to close a library, to take that facility away from us and from our kids, is a disgrace. Sure, it may save a few bob today but what’s the real cost tomorrow?
This is the age of social media, the Kindle, online gaming, downloadable newspapers, Skype. Most things we do, we do online and that’s brilliant. I love technology. But all the gadgetry in the world can’t replace the opening of a new book.
We have fond memories of spending time at the library as kids in the 1980s. A safe, quiet place with tiny chairs and row upon row of brightly coloured books. Beanbags to snuggle on with the latest Topsy & Tim. And the best part was that you could choose from all of those books and take some home with you, proudly trooping out of the building with your bag of treats. When you were old enough to leave the little chairs and the baby section, you could read the big girl books. You’d feel so proud and accomplished. Sometimes, when sitting in the school classroom, staring out of the window, you’d see the big yellow library van approaching. Class by class, you’d be allowed out, into the playground, to climb up the giant steps of the van and gaze at the array of books before you. As we got older, it became a place to study, to borrow cassette tapes, to research on microfiche (ask your parents, kids). They even had machines on which to send a facsimile. It was in my first year at university in 1996 that I had an email address and access to a computer network in the library. I felt like I’d landed on the moon. The library was and still is an amazing place.
On my daughter’s first trip to the library as a toddler, she walked into the children’s section and exclaimed “WOW”. She ran from shelf to shelf, gazing at the books, selecting stories about her favourite things, animals, boats, tractors, buses. She sat on the little chairs, held the books up for the teddy bears to read. “Wow” she said again as we left, loading her choice of books into the back of her buggy. And she was hooked. We go once a week now, plus once a month we attend Story Rhymes. If there’s any doubt on the usage of the libraries by the next generation, I can tell you from experience that these events are always packed. Parents and toddlers stand in the doorways to try to join in with tales and singing. I want her to love the library, to lose hours imagining that she’s in an Enid Blyton story, like I did. I still, as an adult, check people’s feet out in case they might be the Grand High Witch (thanks for the heads up, Roald Dahl).
So, what message are we sending to our kids if we close them down? Are we telling them not to be curious, that reading and learning doesn’t matter? Are we happy to remove all of that knowledge and opportunity, to deprive them of it? How can we place emphasis on reading and writing in the curriculum and yet lock the doors of the very place that aids both? I don’t want my daughter to have to go to a museum to see a book.
Closing down the library just cannot happen. I’m sure that there are a few layers of middle-management that could be looked at in order to find savings within the council? You can’t take it back, once it’s shut, it’s shut. That beautiful building would lie empty and we’d all be worse off. Some things are just far more important than money, educating and inspiring our kids lie together at the top of the list. We cannot allow this story to have a very sad ending.