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.

82 thoughts on “The children that libraries build

  1. I hear you. They are closing library branches and limiting hours on my side of the pond as well. I would not be the person I am today without the hours and hours I spent at my hometown public library. It’s shameful that there are now neighborhoods where children can’t get that.

  2. I live in the USA and I appreciate and agree with EVERY word that you wrote in this article. Our family could not afford pre-school for our boys and we practically lived at our local library. Reading workshops for pre-schoolers were their first school. Checking out books and videos are still our primary source of entertainment.
    I have heard it said that leaders are readers. All three of my boys love to read. One is an aspiring author and translator. He is bi-lingual. He has a close friend that is planning on becoming a librarian. One is a Civil Engineering major in college who has a girlfriend that is a Civil Engineer. My youngest hasn’t decided yet what he wants to do as a career.
    Libraries build more than a life long love of reading for people who use their services. They build our future!

  3. Reblogged this on ohyesjulesdid and commented:
    Stephen Krashen has long contended that access to books fosters a love of reading and that economically booksellers do not typically open book stores in impoverished areas. That further highlights the necessity for public libraries.

  4. One of the problems these days is that libraries haven’t done a good job selling themselves and their services, and how important those are, to the communities they serve. Ben Franklin knew that an educated, informed citizen was absolutely essential if democracy was to survive. That is why he supported libraries and a postal service that was necessary for communication.

  5. How can a library be nonessential? Oh, that’s right, if you keep the populace ignorant it’s easier to control them! (Smacks forehead) totally forgot.
    I can’t say I have similar memories but, I remember my voracious reading appetite that was became almost an addiction by middle school. Now a days the library is my haven. Yes I use e-books but nothing replaces an actual book & every Wednesday my 6 yr old daughter & I go to our local for story time w/art work after & we drop off & ck out our weekly reads. Besides giving those of us on lower incomes something to do do with our children that won’t break us like sports clubs etc it instilled the live of learning,growing & reading in her and has helped me feel more connected to the community which was invaluable when we first moved to the area. What are these policy makers thinking? Sometimes you just wanna shake them til they come to their senses

  6. My sister took a summer job in a library and I loved it when she did, as I read the entire Wizard of Oz series that summer. She later took a job at another library in our town and I read even more. I doubt I would have read anywhere near as much if she had gone into another profession. I had no problem with waiting for her to get off work, as that meant free reading time! She now works in a HUGE library, and I still have no problem waiting for her to get off work.

  7. Wow, what an amazing story! I fear the worst in our digital world; that books will become obsolete. Thank you for such an inspirational post and for giving me hope! 🙂

  8. Libraries are a place where children can go and get into any world they want or need. They can sit and quietly read a book, or even just look at the pictures is a book that they, and only they want to look at. For that moment, they are in their world, a world that they love, that they want to be in. And adults! So many use the library for self-education. Whether it is to learn about a medical term, or cooking, the library gives them thousands of opportunities to learn. There are still so many households without technology. Taking away libraries further contributes to the “dumbing down” syndrome that this society is so guilty of.

  9. As a college student who is currently home one medical leave from university, I recently started working part-time at my local public library. At first I thought I would only be doing it for a couple months before trying to find an internship in environmental non-profit work. Turns out I caught the bug too, because only one week into my new job, I intend on staying and working in my library indefinitely. My library definitely shaped who I was while growing up, and although I haven’t done any research, these same types of service cuts are probably going on over here in the US.

  10. Libraries are just as important as doctors’ offices and emergency rooms. What is learned, seen or viewed in some libraries, has saved lives in ways that no one could imagine.

    Save the libraries and keep the books on our shelves. The power of a city is in its’ libraries, and in reading and in knowledge.

    That’s what I have to say about that.

  11. Libraries are a great place to learn and grow. I have always studied and read many article in libraries. I hope that they continue to expand so that more people will utilize this great system.

  12. I agree whole heartedly with everything you have said. My local library fired my imagination, and filled my world with books and music.

  13. In two years of blogging, this is the first post I have reblogged! Thank you for saying what was in my heart. When libraries shut down, I mourn for the children who lose opportunities beyond measure! – Fawn

  14. Pingback: libraries, a non-essential service? | cutting the map

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