What’s in it for me? The truth about libraries for National Libraries Day

A lot has been said about how we should protect libraries, and I’ve read many love letters to libraries and I’ve worked long and hard in advocacy and campaigns, but there is one point of view that I’ve heard over and over again. Why bother? Surely there are more important issues these days, so what’s the point in protecting libraries?

I can see why people might think this, and why busy people with busy 21st Century lives might feel this way. The government wants people to think this way because it makes it easier to close the libraries. If people feel that libraries are not for them and offer nothing for them, it is going to be a lot easier to close them down. Make people choose, and tell them that they are taking food from the mouths of starving children, or that it’s libraries vs child support, or libraries vs community care… all of these methods are widely used to damage the image that you have of libraries and to encourage you to remove your support.

But to support this mindset involves looking at libraries in completely the wrong way. Libraries ARE child support. Libraries ARE community care.

I have written extensively about this before, and you can read a typical day in a community library here. But I can add even more to the list of what a library does. Let’s take a look at this….

What if you are a special needs adult who lives within a community care residence? What do you do all day? Do you sit around your home alone? Or maybe you could go up the pub and drink for most of the day? Or maybe you could wander the streets alone, or sit in the park? Or maybe your could wander around the supermarket for a few hours? Maybe your could go the the community social groups….oh no, wait..those have been closed down due to budget cuts. How about if instead of that you went to the library and got support with your reading, and signed up for a club, and had some help to find some daytime activities suitable to your needs and abilities?

What if you are long term unemployed with low literacy levels? What do you do in the daytime? Well, you could hang around the pub too, maybe develop a steady drinking habit? Or you could sink into depression and go up the supermarket and buy some booze and sit around at home alone and drink it? You could spend the last of your money on newspapers, stamps, envelopes and you can try to apply for a job alone and without support. Or you could go to the jobcentre and….no, sorry… wait…most of those have been closed down too so skip that one. How about instead of that you go to the library and get some help with a job searches and then get some help applying for them.

(I know that some people might try denying that libraries are used for this sort of thing, but I have some statistics for those of you who need further proof. According to figures from GoONUK (the digital inclusion charity) in 2013 1.5 million adults across Europe applied for jobs via computers in public libraries. Pretty impressive stuff. Now let’s picture a world where we remove the UK from that equation because unlike better performing countries we no longer have libraries)

What if you have a bright and intelligent child who loves books? No problem. All of the surveys show that reading will raise your child’s literacy levels, and the government is very keen to have you put lots of books into your child’s life. How about you spend your time popping up to the bookshop a few times a week and spending around £100 buying new and exciting books for them to read? Oh, hold on, your child is a developing reader who is still not sure what kind of book they like so you’ll want to give them lots of choice – so make that closer to £200 a week. Or, instead of that, you could just pop up the library and let them choose whatever they want for free. You could nip by every day after school if you like and let them choose to their heart’s content. No charge.

Still not convinced? What else can you get in libraries?

Access to ; university prospectuses, DVDs, voters lists, holiday guides, maps, computer help and training, copying and fax services, council information, local planning information and applications, local club and society information, talking books, music scores, CDs, books in other languages, language courses, train and bus timetables, encyclopaedias, storytimes, book groups, reading schemes…oh, and referendums and campaign materials from the various political parties.

Where else can you get this sort of information? Well, you can try online (everything is on the internet, right?) but how do you know that you have the right website? With a million or more hits, how do you know which one to trust? Well, you could ask someone with the skills and experience to guide you through that minefield. Who might that be? Well, that would be your local librarian.

So none of this has any relevance to you? Really? There is genuinely nothing here that is of any use to you? Well then that’s fine, but what about the community in which you live? If you want to live in a community that chooses to take away the one place of safety within it for vulnerable people, then I strongly advise you to avoid leaving the house.

Personally, I would always want to have one place in my community where people are not judged or questioned. One place where vulnerable people of all types can feel safe and welcomed. I, for one, have had times in my life where I’ve needed such a place and I’ve been grateful for the quiet mind-space of  the library. A space where I can just sit and think with clarity and peace. A space where I have nothing to do other than be inside my own thoughts.

I’m not alone in needing that and, if we lose our libraries and you have done nothing to act to stop it, you had better hope that you are never one of the millions who will one day need that space.

Find out how to support your library by using the links below – but the most important thing to remember always is to use it, or lose it! Tweet support, join marches, make a noise for libraries! National Libraries Day is on February 7th – join in and make a difference.

You can find out more about library campaigns via the links on the post below…


Show your support and join in by following and using #NLD15 and #vote4libraries

Article written by Dawn Finch (@dawnafinch) Vice President of CILIP, author and children’s library and literacy consultant