Libraries gave us power

Saturday 5 February is Save Our Libraries Day, a day of action organised by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals to bring greater attention to the cuts and closures facing many public libraries. 26 member Andy Hayes shares his personal thoughts on what makes them worth saving.

I have a confession to make.

Once, when I was younger, wilder and more carefree, I seriously considered a career as a librarian. I drove all the way down to Brighton Poly squished into a small grey car to talk to a lecturer about undertaking their MA course in Information Studies. A euphemism for Library Studies. But why should this be embarrassing? It’s obvious from my opening gambit that I’m still slightly uneasy about sharing this revelation with the outside world. Even with 26 members, who are probably well-educated and love words too.

But words alone were not enough to motivate me to seriously consider spending two years of my life studying for an MA. It was more deep-seated than that. You see, the frustrated librarian trapped inside me continually strives to impose order over chaos. This often drives my wife and kids nuts. But I ask you, what is wrong with insisting CDs are replaced back in their correct case, then stored neatly in alphabetical order? OK, I don’t file them alphabetically… but I would if I had time. Also, I love my iPod not just because it’s slim, gorgeous and fits easily into my jacket pocket, but moreso for its easy classification and retrieval system.

So, back to libraries, which, as we all know, are under threat these days as they do not make economic sense. This makes me angry. Livid in fact. ‘Libraries gave us power’ sang the Manic Street Preachers, inspired by the inscription above the former Pillgwenlly library in Newport. If there were no libraries while I was growing up, I would not have had access to the wonderful world of knowledge which is just a mouse-click away these days.

I grew up in a small-ish village and luckily we had a mobile library. It was bright Ford Yellow with a strip of Royal Blue and trundled round our estate once a week. I used to look forward to it coming more than the ice cream van. I also went by train to Watford; to swim and visit the nearby library afterwards. I discovered Narnia there. The Hobbit too. Later, I became just as interested in the musical section. I borrowed Axis:Bold as Love and Abbey Road which are still two of my favourite albums even after all these years.

Now, though, it’s argued that libraries are obsolete. That all that needs to be known is available online. But not everyone is online. And most of us, despite Kindle and iPad, still love books. Real books. New books for me are like freshly carved tablets from the gods. Apart from the ones written by Jeffrey Archer maybe.

Old books are even better. They smell like 1937. Their yellowing pages thumbed by countless readers; some inspired, some indifferent but all potentially wiser for the experience. Books feed the imagination and nourish the soul. In short, I wouldn’t be me and you wouldn’t be you without books.

Our libraries range from modest shacks in damp car parks and civic treasures built with Victorian pride to vast stone edifices like the long-lost temple of learning in ancient Alexandria. I think they’re just as vital to communities as schools, hospitals and post offices. And it just so happens that next Saturday, 5th February, is Save Our Libraries Day. If you care about books, sharing knowledge and filing stuff neatly in the right order, find out how you can get involved here.

Oh, I nearly forgot – I love the rubber date stamps too…

Andy Hayes is a 26 member and Client Services Director at Quietroom

  1. Great stuff, Andy. Couldn’t agree more. A story for you:

    My Mum (70-odd) lives in a little row of houses with other clergy widows, a few of whom are almost house-bound and use a mobile library. Recently, the mobile librarian asked if Mum would fill in a survey they’d been instructed to carry out.

    One of the questions was, “Would you be willing to carry library books for neighbours who can’t get to the main library?” Mum, who’s still relatively spritely, was about to tick the Yes box when the librarian interrupted.

    “Please don’t say yes,” she pleaded. “If you do, they can use it to claim the mobile library isn’t necessary, and close us down.”

    That’s the Big Society in action: “You see, the wonderful volunteer force of the British public is ready to step in. You’re obselete. Off you go.”

  2. I’m sorry to say I hardly ever use my public library as I prefer to own my own books. But the reason why I have that love of books goes back to childhood when all my books came from the local library. I was a late reader and it was the weekly, sometimes daily visit to the library that established the reading habit in me. It started with Biggles and The Wind in the Willows. It’s a disgrace for our society to even think that it can exist without libraries.

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