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Part of my own library, rather than a public one

Part of my own library, rather than a public one

I came across this blog post from the USA about the role of free libraries in education and social development. It interested me because the writer was from a much younger generation, and started using their library in a time when libraries generally were beginning to get to grips with what we used to call “the Information Revolution”. The blogger remembers first coming into contact with audio-visual formats in their library, and accessing the Internet for the first time in that library. It’s interesting to have this perspective, because I’m from the generation where libraries were equated with books; and very many opinion formers – writers, thinkers and a whole range of people in different walks of life whose work I absorbed – themselves promoted libraries as formative and positive influences at the time when they only contained books. It’s reassuring to read an account that suggests that libraries are as important now as they have ever been.

I responded to that blog, and I repeat my posting below.


Here in the UK, we had Carnegie libraries too, and many are still revered in their local communities. Sadly, the concept of the library as a public service has been eroded because of the financial crisis. With the austerity cutbacks imposed by the Cameron administration from 2010 onwards, local councils (who administer public libraries) had their budgets slashed and many of them cut back on library provision. In a lot of areas — my village included — libraries closed and were handed over to volunteers to run.

This puts me in a quandary. Forty years ago, I trained to be a librarian, because in those pre-Internet days, librarians were the local experts at helping people access knowledge. Sadly, Government policies back then meant that I never fulfilled my ambition to work in a library and help expand free access to information to all. Now I find that the local library is asking for volunteers to help run it. I could do that (or I could if I wasn’t working full-time in IT). But why should I give away for free what I trained and studied long hours for so I could earn a living? When the Government of the day discounts and devalues your job, why should I collude with them by agreeing to work for nothing?

I wanted to become a librarian because in my home town, I went into the library and was staggered by the fact that in that one place, in an unremarkable mill town in the Midlands, there was one place where (potentially) all of human knowledge could be accessed; and this was replicated across the country (and, indeed, the world). And it was open to everyone who wanted it. It also gave me a feeling for books, and reading, and (eventually) writing too. I may not have become a librarian, but at least I can now say that I have a few books to my name, that I’ve made a small contribution to the sum total of human knowledge, even if it is pretty small and quite esoteric, and likely to be of interest to only a small number of people.

I am concerned that the Internet age has made knowledge, in some ways, more commodified; to access it, you now need to own a particular device, pay for a service to connect it to the Web, have power to run it, and possibly (in the case of streaming services) also have to pay to access the content. There may well be a case for that for things that are optional, such as entertainment, though even entertainment may have educational value. But access to knowledge and information should be a basic freedom, allowing for individuals to make informed choices in life and (perhaps more importantly) preventing them from making bad choices. The control of information is something that all tyrants throughout history have exercised; when someone tries to restrict the information you can access, or brands one source of information as “bad” or “fake”, then you can be sure that they are trying to tilt the playing field in their favour and keep everyone else in the dark about their intentions. Knowledge, after all, is power.



Written by robertday154

February 23, 2018 at 10:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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