Home Forums Book Club Do We Still Need Public Libraries?

Nick Tilling Posted 6 months ago
Do We Still Need Public Libraries?

I would have automatically said yes we need to keep them, they are part of our national heritage – but although I am a voracious reader, I haven’t borrowed a book from a library for what must be 40 years.

I have been to a few libraries when I was a union rep so I am reasonably au fait with that they are like these days.

The problem seems to be they are trying to do too much to be all things to all folks. We have reminiscence groups, baby groups, poetry and art groups and all sorts of things – these are all very good things deserving of a community space but each time you add them to a library premises that’s a bit less space for the books.

Before lockdown ours were in the process of being handed over to volunteer groups – again this sounds a good idea in principle and it’s not difficult to initially attract volunteers who are keen . . . . until they’ve been doing it for a while and then it’s “Oh, I can’t do next Wednesday!” And because they are volunteers, you can’t insist that they do. Eventually it ends up with two or three people trying to do everything.

They have made a marvellous contribution to our culture but now that the majority of people are online and can obtain some sort of reading device – you can get many of the classics for nowt and no end of kindle books for 99p – less than the price of your bus fare to the library.

What do you think?

11 likes & 49 replies
    • PhilB 12th June 2021 at 10:54 am

      Over 1000 libraries have closed in the last ten years. Every single time against the wishes of local residents. In Essex where I live there is a very strong vocal campaign to keep all libraries open. There are plenty of attempts to close libraries by stealth by handing them over to local residents to run as volunteers and this never works because volunteers are just that, and there are many ethical concerns about the sole use of volunteers. It took me 6 years to qualify as a librarian, and it’s not something you can pick up overnight.

      In the last few years we have seen the role of libraries changing – away from the very old and traditional view of being full of books and silence to a much more inclusive place to go. Libraries are there to support a local community – a place children can safely go to the their homework, somewhere an unemployed person can go to research job prospects, someone where people can go to use the internet if they don’t have it at home, rhyme time for parents and children, a focal point for the local history community and so on. Oh yes, and free books, ebooks and audio books as well. Quite why people don’t like the idea of free books I’m not entirely sure!

      Now, you could say that all of these things dilute the offering of books – but I’d disagree. The library gets a book fund from the local authority and can always spend it! If you look at a library as a vibrant hub of the community, and the role of the library as embracing that community and helping it grow and prosper these other roles become vitally important.

      An attack on a library is an attack on the community itself, and there is no benefit AT ALL to a library closing, but real damage can be done.

      • Nick Tilling 12th June 2021 at 11:40 am

        You present a case for libraries being a secular equivalent of the church in the role of doing good in the public square (rather than the business of ecumenical matters.)

        • PhilB 12th June 2021 at 12:10 pm

          Libraries can, and should also be able to support local businesses. Librarians are well versed in research and data gathering, which can be useful to a business seeking to grow or discover new markets.

        • VFP 14th June 2021 at 4:55 pm

          I have always used larger libraries to access business research and marketing databases, and I have also received free or low cost help with legal advice on intellectual property.

      • Linde 6th October 2021 at 10:57 am

        Dear Phil B, I admire the way you present the facts about libraries, and whole heartedly agree! When I first came to this country, nearly 60 years ago I was greatly impressed by the way libraries were being used by all kinds of people, in all sorts of ways. It truly was a “community”, where apart from borrowing books you could get advice on public/ community matters, exchange information, join a group of like minded people, collect magazines for local hospital patients, the list goes on. Recently (well, a few years ago) I was able to use a computer designated to ancestral research only, on the top floor of a library in Wiltshire. The beauty of it was: my disabled son was reading magazines, brochures about environmental issues for example, country life magazines etc. on the same floor, just a short distance away. It made our days by serving as entertainment, research, learning, and anxiety reducing activities in a safe environment. We learned so much at that time. So long May libraries survive!
        Best regards, Linde

    • karsteele 12th June 2021 at 3:30 pm

      Yes. We must remember that there are some people who cannot afford to buy books so if they like to read the library is the saviour. We must continue to help and encourage reading. I have seen at the Walton on thames library. mums and toddlers getting introduced to books and listening to stories. Young children must get the feel of books and the pleasure that can be got from them. I still at 85 relish that feeling. When I buy a new book it sits on my sofa or table staring at me and I stare back, and occasionally I touch it or flip through a couple of pages, and the anticipation is exciting. I know it sounds strange but it works for me. Then comes the day or evening when I pick it up and start to read, I then find it hard to put it down again. Also I believe books club will order their number with a library. So they mustn’t go. Changed maybe, but always open to everyone.

    • Josie The Black Country Wench 12th June 2021 at 5:51 pm

      Before covid our mobile library was the highlight of the week. When you live in rural isolation a visit to the library van means meeting up and chatting with other members of your community. A chance to share gossip and talj about the books you have read. A real life line to a rural community

    • Ems 12th June 2021 at 10:12 pm

      Sorry Nick, I dont agree with you.

      My local libraries are excellent, they cater for all ages, social groups, espcially helping families, seniors, middle aged. They provide books, digital aids ie computers, broadband, as not everyone wants or can afford laptops and broadband at home (I dont have broadband), they provide digital/IT help, job clubs, baby/toddler groups, important for single parents, stay at home mums, to socialise both children and adults, they encourage reading for children and adults alike, book clubs, creative writing I could go on..

      I use my libraries all the time to read actual books, as I hate kindles, why would you want to stare at another electronic device, after spending all day at work staring at a pc. Digital isn’t always the answer. It cant be good for the eyes. I have also noticed how libraries provide a place for people to go to interact and socialise which is important to combat loneliness. Libraries are a very important hub of the community, especially in the countryside. It would be a very sad day if we didnt have libraries.

    • Vervain 13th June 2021 at 3:10 pm

      I have missed my library during this pandemic. I read a lot and the library is a place l can get books without spending money. I know there are places online l can get used books but l am stuck with them if l don’t like them. With the library l can just take them back. I also used the computers a lot before l got this phone for the internet. My library also had social groups of various sorts before covid. Special events for children in the holidays and open Mike nights once a month. At the moment browsing is limited to 20 min but l found some books. I don’t have a lot of money and my library is about the only place l can go that is free. I need the library and l am sure many others do too.

    • Shoshana59 13th June 2021 at 3:57 pm

      Hi, I order books from my local library online regularly. Picking one up this week. I personally love a library, just looking, the space, the peace & a coffee to finish off. Obviously not been able to do that due to covid.

    • Reverend Nick 14th June 2021 at 4:45 pm

      Looks like libraries should be in the keep box then.

      However, their future is likely to be in the hands of people to whom they don’t matter so much. We’ve recently had local elections which have resulted in lots of new councillors – in my experience of sitting on a local government committee – newly elected members are very much inclined to be led by the LA senior departmental officers in decision making until they find their feet. So this could be quite a dangerous time for the future of some libraries.

      Phil B – as the man on the spot, as it were, what advice would you give to ordinary punters who want to make their views known?

      • PhilB 14th June 2021 at 5:36 pm

        There are a lot of local protest groups around the country which are very vocal in protecting their libraries. In Essex for example we have SOLE (Save Our Libraries Essex) which has a busy Facebook page, Twitter account, petitions and so on. It holds marches, has zoom meetings and discussions and targeted each candidate for local govt seats prior to the last local elections.

        You have to make noise – a lot. Councillors don’t like that, and they don’t want to be identified as the person who closed the library. Do NOT accept volunteer run libraries instead of professionals – they simply don’t work long term. A library has to be run by a qualified librarian. Anything else is closure by stealth. Reach out to other local friends of libraries groups – the more if you the better, and come armed with facts and figures. If people need specific support, let me know and I’ll point you in the right direction. 🙂

    • Jaxx 14th June 2021 at 5:50 pm

      Yes, must keep libraries. I look at a screen all day for work, then my own laptop in the evening. My eyes need a rest, I want a physical paper book. I read a great deal and could not possibly afford to buy that many books. It was a nightmare when libraries shut their doors for Covid. Fortunately, some like minded people in my village set up a book swap – lifesaver

    • LESSHER2 17th June 2021 at 8:26 pm

      Who in their right mind would refuse this wonderful, free book lending service. In this day and age of supposed poverty and child poverty, why advocate Kindles and paying for books.!!! Children should all be introduced to the art of reading REAL books. It might just give them some proper imagination, instead of the robotic reality of tech.

    • Margaret B 18th June 2021 at 7:45 am

      I personally don’t use Libraries as much as I used to, but I still read books,{only use my kindle on holiday}. we have a lot of little free libraries which are very popular, once you know the location of each one!

      • PhilB 18th June 2021 at 10:45 am

        Can I ask why you don’t use your library as often? (Covid limitations aside of course). Genuinely interested.

    • Margaret B 18th June 2021 at 11:44 am

      I have books given, or I may buy one in a charity shop. Maybe when we a fully functional again, I will visit a Library again.

    • Arthur Chappell 18th June 2021 at 4:08 pm

      We do need them, and I do use them, not just for book reading / borrowing but also for computer access, printing and scanning services. They are great for meeting writers, book clubs, and much more too and many cannot afford to buy books for themselves or their children. Great for reading books you may not have known about or which you might want to read a portion of before deciding whether or not to buy a copy too

    • AngieDay 18th June 2021 at 7:38 pm

      I love visiting the library, enjoyed it since childhood, I have very happy memories of finding amazing gems on the weekly trip with my parents. There is just something great about the atmosphere of a library. Great for when you want to read a book but not necessarily own it, or just explore something out of your usual genres without commitment. I still visit the library, partly because I am running out of space for the books I own! Most importantly though, they are essential for those who can’t afford to buy books or kindles. Literature, learning, information should not be the preserve of the affluent.

    • lyndabrownbath 19th June 2021 at 8:23 am

      Yes yes yes. I Love Libraries. I go every week. I love finding a book and taking it home. It’s mine for 3 weeks.

    • AllsGravy 20th June 2021 at 1:42 am

      Ooh! A fundamentally political post. Wonder how long this will last before the gammonati get upset and get it taken down?

      Learning is a fundamental human right and once you start down the route of questioning the need of physical free public libraries you have lost a civilised humane society. You have perpetual fascism. (We’re not far from it, as part of the raison d’être of Brexit is to wipe out Human Rights Act (and employment rights))

      I agree though that Libraries have become ‘hubs’ of all things to all people and unsatisfactory to everyone. But again, that’s part of neoliberal: defund, overwhelm, let it fail, privatise, take loads of public money/subsidy, asset-strip and close model.

    • Lizzi-Beth 20th June 2021 at 8:05 am

      Yes to libraries. But get the point of the first one on this thread. My granddaughter loves books. My daughter says while she has a whole host of books at home she loved pre-covid that she could borrow books for a month giving her daughter a variety of ‘new’ books without the expense of buying them.

    • diggerssenior 20th June 2021 at 8:15 am

      Most definitely. They can be a haven for the bibliophile, a place for young children to learn about the wonders of the written word and lastly a place for the homeless to take refuge. I used my local library for many years and my children looked forward to going there on some Saturday mornings

    • PhilB 20th June 2021 at 11:43 am

      Just to add some statistics to the debate: in 2019 there were over 214,000,000 visits to libraries in the UK. Plus an extra 131,000,000 online. That’s more than people visiting football matches, the theatre, A&E and the Church *combined*. About a third of people in the UK visit a library. 165,000,000 books are issued every year. 64% of 5-10 y.o. children visit the library and 58% of 11-15 y.o. Children.

      Being a regular library user is also associated with a 1.4 per cent increase in the likelihood of reporting good general health, valued at a medical-cost saving associated with library engagement at £1.32 per person per year. The aggregate NHS cost savings across the library-using English population is £27.5 million per year.

      It’s a clear picture – libraries are incredibly popular, and they do a huge amount of good for the UK overall. There’s no appetite to close them, and attempts at closure or stealth closure are being fought at every stage. Rather than a reduction in library services we actually need greater involvement to provide new and better facilities.

    • Paccuppanna 20th June 2021 at 11:52 am

      Absolutely still need them!

    • Sand 20th June 2021 at 12:55 pm

      I am old school, I have a Kindle, but I like to hold and read a book. Libraries are a part of our heritage, children come to our libraries in the summer holidays. True most of their parents are in the pub next to it. I avoid there in the school holidays in normal times. I look forward to going back to our clubs which are in the library.

    • Gailp 17th August 2021 at 12:52 pm

      But the good books, the ones we choose to read, are more likely £4-£5 upwards. And to a pensioner, on a limited income, that is simply too much, and as one of those people, I don’t want to read chick lit type frivolous stories, I want something far more substantial. As a pensioner I read a lot, usually 4 books a week, so the library is really important to us. Someone working full time can afford to pick up a couple of books whenever they want, with no reservations, or can afford the price of the better quality Kindle books Online. I can get online, but I don’t allow myself to buy stuff online, as before you know it you are in debt, or can’t afford food. The library really is a massive support to many people.
      Plus, I much prefer to curl up in a Chair, or my bed, with a real solid book in my hands- there is something special about a real book.

    • karsteele 19th August 2021 at 10:06 am

      There are still a lot of people who cannot afford to buy books maybe not even from charity shops. But if they want to read new books they have to go to the library. Ditto children get their first experience of being in a room full of books. I remember I remember, the delight and the joy. So yes we still need libraries.

    • Greekman 19th August 2021 at 10:44 am

      I think now it is not relevant

    • Sapharica 2nd October 2021 at 9:17 am

      Love libraries, use them and be grateful.

    • Krishna 10th October 2021 at 4:19 pm

      The libraries are essential part of the community though its usage and structure has changed. every one is not rich enough to buy the books they want and everyone is not used to the new cheaper way of ereader devices due to vision problem and financial restrictions.

      I had been to my familiar time Mombasa a few times and there is no libraries in the town which is on brink of becoming a city. One person I asked the reason said that the computer has taken over the need of the library.

    • ShirleyB 14th October 2021 at 10:04 pm

      We really should keep libraries but like most people who have commented – I have not been in one for years. However I can afford to buy my books, I am lucky – I am lost without a book to read, but many people rely on libraries for their fix – I only keep books which have been bought for me by my kids or my absolute favorites I read many times over. When I used to commute I used to leave books I had finished by the end of my journey on the train for someone else to enjoy. I have also donated lots to libraries and charity shops.
      As for electronic devices – my kindle is sitting in a drawer – there is nothing like the feel of a book in your hands

    • Brighton Belle 14th October 2021 at 11:18 pm

      Yes our Library has lots other groups using their facilities not just lending books etc….

    • BBM 19th October 2021 at 7:18 pm

      I don’t want to buy books! Although I can afford them I really don’t know what to do with them once I’ve read them. So I go to my local library. They will get me any book I want, sourcing volumes from another local library if necessary or even via inter-library loan.
      As for online books from the library and Kindle, that was a lifesaver during lockdown. But you can’t get books in Polish on Kindle (or you couldn’t last time I looked). And I like to get a Polish book from the library from time to time.

    • Bobby65 21st October 2021 at 11:27 am

      Hi I think we still need libraries they are more of a community hub now. Various activities from computer use to little ones getting to know and read books. Although I like you haven’t took out a book in a long time. Use my kindle these days.

    • Sand 23rd October 2021 at 6:30 am

      Our library is open again, it is home to children from the flats during school holidays. Older people for knit and natter. I think the library is very necessary. some people can not afford kindles.