So, leading on (quite some time later, I know!) from my previous post about the future of booksellers, the next thing M and I discussed was the future of libraries.
Despite being aware of all the cuts that are being made to the funding for libraries, it seems to me (and I’m guessing many others too – I’m no rocket scientist…) that maintaing libraries is the perfect way to soften the blow of disappearing bookshops. They have the chance to offer impartial advice and one of the things people often say they love about bookshops (and especially independent ‘specialist’ ones) is that there are people there with ideas and knowledge who can point them in the right direction when it comes to choosing books. Libraries can, and often already do, do this brilliantly, though clearly will not be able to continue if they are not funded. Thinking about this issue caused me to look around on the internet a bit and I came across The Library Campaign‘s website which gives a lot of food for thought.
M thinks that libraries are on the way out as well. Again, NOT because he wants them to be, or because he thinks it’s right, but because there is little chance of them continuing to get the funding they need to survive. When I pointed out how much libraries do over and above the lending of books – check out this great post for inspiration – he still didn’t feel it would be enough to justify their future security.
I so desperately want to think he’s wrong (and I know there is most definitely an element of him playing devil’s advocate when we chat about these things) but I find it harder and harder to believe that the decision makers in this country value libraries enough to want to keep them.
Talking about education is a whole separate blog post and probably a whole separate blog, but it makes me (and countless others, I know) so sad to think of all the pressure that is placed on small children to pass, or indeed fail, tests practically from the moment they are born and yet so much evidence seems to suggest that this isn’t the way to help them succeed and be happy in later life. A love of reading *does* seem to do this.
I hate to think of C, who has started school this year, losing his passion for books. He is loving learning to read and seems to be doing very well with it, but I would never want that to replace the magical story times we have together. One of his highlights of the week is choosing a book from the school library and bringing it home to share with us, which I’m pleased about as I have less opportunity to take him to our local library now that he’s at school.
Both C and H love visiting the library, despite the fact that they live in a home where they are lucky enough to have access to hundreds of books at any time. It’s not merely that they are able to choose books they mightn’t have seen before (and yes, contrary to M’s opinion, there are *some* books out there that we don’t own 😉 ) but also that they are in a place that exists purely for the purpose of celebrates reading and stories, and talking and sharing and having fun.
Something else that I think is important about libraries is time. In schools, nurseries, bookshops and homes we might be under pressure to choose a book quickly or there might be other distractions. In a library, it’s All About The Books. We can choose one, read a bit of it, change our mind, choose another, have someone read that to us, go for a wander to run our fingers along the spines of the older people’s books and dream about when we will read them, come back, sit down, have a cuddle, choose a new book, and so on. So much of a young child’s life is scheduled these days that in an ironic twist I find myself pencilling in time for us to do nothing and the library is one of the most perfect places for it. Of course, it’s not that we’re *actually* doing nothing, but more that we’re allowing ourselves not to have a plan and to see where the books take us.
If we want children to grow up to be creative, independent thinkers who are able to start their own businesses, develop creative solutions to problems and to forge their own paths, we need to show them how powerful their imaginations are and to show them that there is never one right answer – there are so many ways to tell the same story and each one is valid. (This makes me angry again, thinking about how the current pressure on tests means children will be afraid to make mistakes or get things wrong occasionally. If no-one tries anything new because they’re afraid of making a mistake (and many mistakes need to be made in order to bring about the most exciting changes – I’m sure even the most revered authors and illustrators would tell us that!) then how will anything ever change? ARRRRGHHHHHHHHH!)
*Takes a VERY deep breath*
I don’t have the data to show how well libraries are used and I expect it varies wildly from area to area. School libraries are also proving harder to sustain, it seems, and so it’s not as though they will become a replacement (not even mentioning the fact that libraries are not only for children, even though that’s what I’m focusing on here, so school libraries – brilliant or otherwise would have no impact on giving adults access to books). Where will children and families go to get advice about what to read next or what to try out or simply to find out why reading is so fun and so important? I’d like to think that everyone reads book blogs avidly and takes advice from there (!), but I know that’s not the case and even if it were, blogs couldn’t replace the personal touch of chatting to someone in person.
Right, I’ve wittered on enough about the problems, so in order to adopt a Positive Mental Attitude I’ll try and think of how things could realistically be better.
1) Could mobile libraries play a greater role? If the cost of sustaining a huge building is part of the problem (and I’m not saying that it is because I don’t know) could the books travel around to be shared? Could there be pop-up libraries in the same vein as the pop-up shops which are becomingly more and more popular? These libraries could also pop up at children’s centres, nurseries, baby clinics, etc. at certain times, with someone on hand to chat to parents and families about the joy of reading.
2) How do the events a library offers impact on how well it’s used? Many libraries have a fortnightly Rhyme Time session for small children based on nursery rhymes, as well as offering a whole range of events in the school holidays for older children. I don’t know of many simple storytelling sessions that happen on a regular basis, where it’s possible to sit and be read a book. I’m sure there are many reasons (lots of them financial) why this doesn’t happen. However, while it mightn’t be possible to recreate a full-on craft or singing and dancing session at home, if you’ve watched your child be spellbound by someone just reading to them, it might encourage you to do the same at home.
3) How could publishers play a part? I am sure I’m being naive and that there are lots of reasons why this wouldn’t work, but could publishers donate a certain number of books per year to libraries? I know a publisher’s goal is to sell books rather than donate them to a place where they’ll be used for free, but I can’t be the only person who has bought books after borrowing them from the library countless times? I wish publishers could opt to pay less in tax and instead donate books to libraries to keep them flourishing.
4) How can we support children whose families can’t afford books or whose love of reading isn’t strong enough to cause them to proactively seek out books? I ask myself this question constantly when I am considering what Story Seekers might *be*. Even though I like the idea of baby and toddler classes and realise that should they be successful they would potentially earn me a salary, I know that there are lots of parents who wouldn’t ever attend those sort of classes, for a whole variety of reasons. I would LOVE to moonlight as a library outreach worker (I’m thinking cape, mask and a sparkly book wand) who visited children’s centres, worked alongside health visitors, liaised with staff at pre-schools and even visited families in their homes? There is a steady stream of articles about how important a love of reading is for a child’s future success and happiness and in this Guardian article, the current Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman, writes passionately about how important libraries are in giving everyone an equal chance to develop this love. If we accept we need to get people using libraries in order to show that they’re worth keeping, perhaps we need people to reach out deeper into the community and shout about them even more than we already do?
Without libraries, how else can we guarantee being able to share the magic of reading and books for future generations? One of the many things I love about libraries is their sense of continuity. The buildings themselves may have been used by many generations, but even if they haven’t you are still reading books that many others have read before you and hopefully even more will read after you. My mum instilled me in a need to appreciate the history of things and the stories behind them and her mum instilled in me my passion for reading. Both these things are encapsulated in libraries and I want my children and my children’s children to know and love them too; for libraries to continue to be woven into the fabric of our family.
*stops writing, grabs sparkly book wand and swooshes it emphatically* As Captain Barnacles would say, “Let’s DO this!”
P.S. Apologies for the overuse of asterisks in this post – I feel slightly like Joey in the episode of Friends where he totally doesn’t get how how to use ‘air quotes’ (are they even a ‘thing’?) 😉