I have joined a library this morning. I cannot recall the last time I was in one, though I suspect that it was over forty years ago. I would like to tell you that my intentions are to improve myself, browsing self-help books, or finding out about local community groups; I wouldn’t want to lie though.
I have had to take my car in for a minor repair today. They said that they will fix it as soon as possible, but it may take a few hours. Dereham is not a large place, and there is only so much wandering around that you can do, particularly when the temperature is touching zero. Julie suggested that I take some I.D. with me, and join the local library. That way, I could keep (relatively) warm, and use the Internet facilities for free, at the same time. The ladies here were very nice, and gave me a membership card, and instant access to one of their workstations (albeit for a one-hour slot) without hesitation. The building is quite modern, though the layout inside is strikingly similar to the libraries of my youth. Take away the DVD selection, audio books, and Internet terminals, and it has hardly changed, in a lifetime.
Perhaps this shows that the formula was good, to start with. I can think of many other establishments, service providers, even shops, who could benefit from this example. This library is very well-used, it seems to me. Early on a Monday morning, there is a good mix of ages; women with small children, an East European man looking to apply for jobs online, even some old bloke using the Internet to write a blog post! Given it is such a small town, I have counted around 50 people on the two floors, in less than 45 minutes. This shows that the service is not only popular, but obviously needed. Where else would all these people go, to borrow books, do their research, or even to keep (fairly) warm, on a weekday?
I confess that I have rarely considered Libraries, during the busy years at work. I have signed the odd petition to save one, in various places, but did not think about the impact of closure. When I lived in London, they were closing on a weekly basis, always one of the first, and easiest victims of local council spending cuts; like the cost-cutting equivalent of clubbing a seal pup. Who is there to protest? Staff are few, and hardly have a tradition of militancy. Some mums with small children in buggies, chanting ‘save our library’, for a 20-second slot on Local News, forgotten tomorrow. They are going fast, and are unlikely to ever return.
Who would have thought, that after moving to a rural part of England, with a Conservative Council, charging the lowest tax in the UK, I would rediscover the essence of a well-run, well-used, (though not very warm) and very healthy community service, such as this library? It is hard to believe that inner-city councils have bleated on so long about not being able to provide similar resources, and we have let them get away with it. Another big lie.
Add it to the very long list.