In March last year, I wrote about the impending cuts to our library services and why it’s just so important to save these vital community resources from closure and ‘rationalisation’. Recently, I was interested to note that the Public Libraries News had put together a list of library closures – and of those libraries still under threat from government policy.
[W]e are seeing a reduction in opening hours, book stock spending and staff in many library services. Local communities, families and individuals are more than ever facing a postcode lottery when it comes to the quality of library services they can expect to receive.
And good quality library services are a crucial aspect of any healthy community. I’m a regular user of my local library – and not just in order to borrow books, although I do that frequently. The libraries in my local area also offer everything from local history services and access to education information, newspapers and the internet, to storytime sessions for the little ones and book groups, family history tutorials and craft workshops for the grown ups.
There’s been a spate of witty and amusing placards and banners on show at various recent demonstrations in London (current favourites include the Father Ted-inspired ‘Down with this sort of thing!’, ‘Capitalists of the world ignite’ and ‘I bet they still have EMA at Hogwarts’). I spotted this librarian making a damn good point at yesterday’s massive March For The Alternative…
Tonight is World Book Night. Originally dreamed up by Jamie Byng of the hugely successful Scottish independent publishers Canongate Books, and backed by an impressively long list of interesting and influential patrons (including JK Rowling, Nick Cave, Gil Scott-Heron, Margaret Atwood, Carol Ann Duffy and Antony Gormley, to name but a few), the aim of World Book Night is really quite simple – they want to get more people reading. And they intend to do this by giving away a million books.
Yes, I suspect it would be true to say that this event is extremely good publicity for the publishing houses involved, but, cynicism aside, if World Book Night does manage to succeed in its aim of encouraging people to read more than they already do (or don’t, as the case may be), then it will have done society a service.
Because the enjoyment of a truly good book is one of those small but significant joys of human existence; a simple, lightweight and portable escape from everyday stresses, as well as an almost bottomless source of life-long learning. You can read about almost anything you could ever imagine (and a fair few things you probably couldn’t) – and you can read almost anywhere: in the bath, on the beach, waiting for the bus, on the loo, in bed, in the park, up a tree, on your sofa…