Friday, March 24, 2006

Libraries are not just about books

It's a pity that the Independent is now behind a paywall. Terence Blacker has an excellent article in it today about the value of libraries.

He's pleased about a 'Love Libraries' intitiative, backed by the great and the good in government and commerce and tagged with all the usual marketing speak, to redesign and promote three libraries in Newquay, Gravesend and Richmond. On the day it was announced though he was visiting a library in Northern Ireland, where he met a group of children who regularly go there after school.

"Here is the way it works in libraries like the one I visited. Situated near a council housing estate, it is a regular refuge after school for children, aged from seven or eight upwards, whose parents are out or unavailable. It is warm and light; it has computers and books.

With the help of conscientious and heroically patient librarians, the children receive encouragement and interest that they get neither at home nor at school and, largely though their own free will and enthusiasm, often develop and interest in books and the world of possibility and escape that they contain.

In a better world there would be no need for librarians to provide this kind of safety-net, but the fact is that, in many places they do. There is a danger that, as we learn to love libraries, these rather more needy and demanding consumers, who elsewhere tend to get ignored, forgotten and excluded, may be regarded by the marketing mentors as rather too problematic to fit in with their visionary transformations."

Spot on, though I do have one small quibble with his use of the term "consumers" (a word I dislike intensely but, like many others, overuse) to describe children. In doing so he is surrendering ground, allowing the marketing consultants' language to structure the terms of any debate.

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