I know I am preaching to the converted here but I still need to say it: libraries are important.
I have been a member of the library since I was 3. My nearest local library closed down nearly two years ago despite being the third most used in the borough. It has been replaced by a mobile library service which now visits the town just once a week for an hour and a half on a Friday afternoon. Further cuts are being made to opening hours and the number of trained staff as well as a reduction in the purchase of new books. This situation is being repeated up and down the country.
The 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act stipulates that local authorities have a duty to provide a comprehensive library service in every borough. However, some politicians still seem to think that libraries are now less essential given that broadband access is available pretty much everywhere now. Firstly, this is not true as around 8 million people in the UK have never used the Internet and many more do not have access to it in their own homes. Secondly, this is still missing the point entirely about what libraries are actually for. Libraries provide access to information whether it be in the form of books, local archives, the Internet or newspapers. They are community centres which offer social and educational services such as reading groups or IT lessons which help people develop skills. Most importantly, they are easily accessible and free for everyone to use. As an avid reader, libraries provide me with access to books that I otherwise wouldn’t buy for myself. They also broaden my horizons by introducing me to other genres or authors I might not have considered reading before.
It is depressing that one of the few public services that brings real enjoyment to local citizens is being targeted with deep cuts when seemingly little is being done to improve efficiency in other areas. It is also somewhat cruelly ironic that the economic crisis has renewed interest in libraries given that buying books is a luxury that many cannot afford. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t seem to understand this. Given that the ex-Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, revealed in 2011 that he hadn’t borrowed a library book for over a decade, this is hardly surprising although it is extremely worrying.