I haven’t actually used a library for the last couple of years, mainly because I’m an obsessive book buyer, but I have enough fond memories of hushed, booklined hours to keep me going for the rest of my life. Therefore, I was sad to see this news story in the Metro today. It says that some, underused, EU libraries cost taxpayers up to £570 per book loan.
The article then points out that the number of books available for public lending in Britain has dropped by 20 per cent in the past ten years and intimates that this is directly connected with the small numbers of people attending some of the 52 EU libraries servicing Eurocrats.
These libraries cost £16 million in taxes per year. Meanwhile, 2007 saw the closure of forty public libraries in England, an awfully large number considering that 328.5 million visitors enjoyed the use of a UK library last year.
As opposed as I am to sounding in any way nationalistic (despite a quiet streak of patriotism), and as much as I like to think of the UK as part of Europe, I’d hate it if the correlations the Metro is drawing prove to be true.
In a perfect world, I’d like to see the number of libraries facing closure at zero but I suppose that the most important factor in preserving a library should be the number of people that utilise it – no matter where it is.
The Guardian carries a story about Gloucester libraries playing music today and it’s giving me pretty mixed feelings. Apparently the libraries have decided to introduce piped music as an aid to browsing and a spokesperson said that they have been very busy since introducing the new scheme.
Which is nice, because they are doing it to try and entice young people through the door (allegedly been playing Sugababes tracks to this end). The thing is that more elderly patrons have complained and I don’t really blame them.
I can happily listen to music as I read, work and even write but only when it’s loud enough not to qualify as background music – in fact, it only really works for me when it basically blocks out all other background noise – so in a library where I would either be concentrating on looking for something, browsing through a book or working on something, I would find it really annoying.
So I guess that puts me on the side of the traditional users, but at the same time I think that any way to keep libraries alive and young people interested has to be a good thing. Whether music is the answer is another question however…
My mum (although just about to start a new job) has worked in Penicuik library for the last few years – a new development twinned with a funky leisure centre in a really nice building – and I think that the sleek facilities, evening classes and friendly approach has probably done more for introducing it to the kids of the area than musak versions of chart toppers would.
I remember spending hours in the library when I was young, whether choosing books or actually sitting in the children’s area and happily reading them in silence, I wonder if you’ll still be able to do that in ten years time. I suppose it depends whether this experiment proves a success for Gloucester or not.