The children that libraries build

While idly browsing through my Twitter feed this evening, I came across this:

It got me thinking about the value of public libraries for young readers and the disastrous consequences closures/service reductions could bring. It also got me reflecting on why I chose to work in libraries in the first place.  It may be quite a personal story but, given the circumstances, I think it really highlights the importance of public libraries, including the chance for escape and the opportunities they offer young people.

My family never had that much spare money when I was growing up, despite both my mother and stepfather working. Both worked in a takeaway and, because all other immediate family members were also working there and cheap/free childcare was (as it still is) practically non-existent, I was there with them six nights a week. I’m sad to say that the novelty of free chips runs thin after a couple of weeks, and it was often quite a lonely experience (despite my best efforts to help out, nobody really wants their chow mein put together by an eight year old).

Those best nights were the ones when Ammanford Public Library opened slightly later and I could spend some time browsing, emerging with an armful of books to while away the hours. On weekend mornings and afternoons, Swansea Central Library provided a larger selection to choose from, as well as expanding my taste in music and film with their cheap audiovisual collections. A few years later, it provided internet access for hasty GCSE revision and keeping in touch with friends. In fact, I loved Swansea Library so much I did a work experience placement there at 16; it was there that I truly caught the library bug. For any Dr Who fans this was, at the time, the library featured in the episode Silence in the Library. It has now moved to the Civic Centre on Oystermouth Road.

Year 11 work experience was a little more intense than expected. Taken from Wikipedia:

Both of these libraries provided an escape route; while I was physically trapped in an often quite boring, stifling environment, I could escape for a few hours with no additional cost and just a ten minute walk down the road.

So when I read about the extent of library closures as a ‘non-essential’ service, it feels deeply, deeply personal. Local authorities are cutting very much essential services without a thought for how this will affect the more vulnerable members of their communities. I was struck by this powerful article on library closures in Sheffield, especially its references to the Council’s idea of ‘hub libraries’ accessible by, at most, 30 minutes on public transport. For many people, including “working families” (buzzword of the day), an hour round trip and over-inflated bus prices don’t just heavily restrict library access, they make it damn near impossible. They bring time and money into the equation, which many people simply cannot afford. Communities are brought together by libraries, people seek them out in a world where your personal worth is increasingly judged by the amount of money in your pocket. Social exclusion is already rife in the UK, and will only be exacerbated by the closure of public libraries.

I have nothing but admiration for the groups campaigning against these devastating cuts, and am sorry I could not be more involved in the wonderful campaigns being run to fight against these draconian and often ideologically-driven cuts. Being constantly pressed for time and money myself (I’m currently working two, soon to be three, jobs to fund my Librarianship MA), all I can contribute at the moment is this: by restricting access to libraries, recreational and educational resources and a community base that is free at the point of access, councils are marginalising the vulnerable, alienating the poor and stifling social mobility within the UK. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation feature linked to above highlights that child poverty measurement should examine  ‘how children’s life chances are affected by not having sufficient resources’.  Fewer libraries will not just contribute to child poverty, they’ll make its effects even more unbearable as children and their families struggle to find a place to escape to for a few hours. Deny this at this risk of diminishing the chances of a bright new generation of creative and innovative minds.


New year, new blog!

I have a confession to make: I’m not very good at maintaining blogs. And this isn’t my first library blog. After almost five months of “forgetting” to update my first blog, it seemed a bit embarrassing to go crawling back, begging for forgiveness after months of negligence. The time seemed right for a fresh start.

So here it is; my brand spanking new library blog. It’s named for one of my favourite bits of working in a library (or bookshop, or archives, or any similar job). Those times when you’re supposed to be getting on with something a bit routine, maybe a little dull, and the gems that distract you on the way. In my short time working in libraries, I’ve been distracted by items such as tacky 70s pamphlets on exorcism, intricately embroidered bookmarks interleaved in forgotten books and playbills advertising death-defying stunts. A colleague of mine even found a 1919 London Underground map hidden in one of our books last year. The thing I love about libraries and archives is that, no matter whether academic, public, commercial or historic, there’s always the chance of discovering something new or unique when poking about their collections. And this isn’t strictly limited to physical collections, as this collection of Aero adverts demonstrates. Whether lost in card catalogues or internet databases, it’s so easy to get distracted.

But enough waffle, what has the new year brought so far? Well, I’m in the second semester of my part-time MA Librarianship in the University of Sheffield. This term I’m doing modules in Management, Archives and Records Management and Academic and Special Libraries. My favourite so far has to be Archives – on Monday we had a fascinating talk by Tim Gollins of the National Archives, whose work on digital preservation really underlines the importance of public access to information and government accountability; in his own words ‘holding the establishment to account in the court of history’. One brilliant thing about the course at Sheffield is that external speakers are often invited to lead classes so you really get to understand the ‘real-world’ implication of the theories and ideas taught.

One thing which I’m a bit worried about this term is taking on three modules, whilst holding down two part-time jobs. I felt busy enough with two modules last semester and am already starting to feel the added strain a little. One thing I hope to blog about a little later into the semester is the challenges and benefits choosing to study part-time. I chose to do this as there was no way I’d be able to save up all the funds in one go to start when I wanted to and I also wanted to work alongside the degree. This has worked out quite well for me, but I don’t think there’s a lot written out there on the practicalities of studying part-time, such as getting support from your workplace or academic department. It’s hard to get an idea of what it’ll be like before you actually start, and that can be pretty terrifying. It most definitely is worthwhile, but can be very tricky to manage.

So, that seems about enough for a second first blog post for now. Until next time…