The Value of Libraries

A couple of days ago I mentioned someone’s idiotic idea to stop funding the UK’s libraries and use the money to give everyone Kindles. The idea came about because local government in the UK is looking to close many public libraries in a desperate attempt to save money. Philip Pullman gave a brilliant speech on the subject a few days ago, in which he defended the libraries from the bean-counters:

I still remember the first library ticket I ever had. It must have been about 1957. My mother took me to the public library just off Battersea Park Road and enrolled me. I was thrilled. All those books, and I was allowed to borrow whichever I wanted! And I remember some of the first books I borrowed and fell in love with: the Moomin books by Tove Jansson; a French novel for children called A Hundred Million Francs; why did I like that? Why did I read it over and over again, and borrow it many times? I don’t know. But what a gift to give a child, this chance to discover that you can love a book and the characters in it, you can become their friend and share their adventures in your own imagination.

And the secrecy of it! The blessed privacy! No-one else can get in the way, no-one else can invade it, no-one else even knows what’s going on in that wonderful space that opens up between the reader and the book. That open democratic space full of thrills, full of excitement and fear, full of astonishment, where your own emotions and ideas are given back to you clarified, magnified, purified, valued. You’re a citizen of that great democratic space that opens up between you and the book. And the body that gave it to you is the public library. Can I possibly convey the magnitude of that gift?

Somewhere in Blackbird Leys, somewhere in Berinsfield, somewhere in Botley, somewhere in Benson or in Bampton, to name only the communities beginning with B whose libraries are going to be abolished, somewhere in each of them there is a child right now, there are children, just like me at that age in Battersea, children who only need to make that discovery to learn that they too are citizens of the republic of reading. Only the public library can give them that gift.

Go and read the whole thing – it’s worth it.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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2 Responses to The Value of Libraries

  1. technogran1 says:

    Yes Geoff, what a shame although as I read his missive, I couldn’t help thinking that the children of today are far too busy on their games machines, or on their computers or watching TV to do much reading. Its our generation (well certainly mine!) who grew up with books because let’s face it, there was little else. The only other pastime was listening to the radio. Good post though.

  2. Geoff Coupe says:

    TG, you have a point; yet it seems to me that while the trigger to firing a child’s imagination can come from many different sources today, more is not necessarily better. After all, Harry Potter seized the imaginations of millions of children when still in book form.

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