Today, there has been a series of protests across the country in response to local authorities’ ill thought-out plans to close 400 libraries. I used my local library today, and will take the opportunity now to set out what libraries mean to me.
So many of my earliest reading memories are connected to libraries, whether the village library or various school libraries. As a young child, I was a precocious reader from a not very bookish household in the middle of the Yorkshire countryside. It may not have been the case that they were my only access to books, but libraries were certainly key in making books feel a part of my everyday life.
Libraries are the first places that many of us encounter books, and are significant as places where books and the learning they represent can be decoupled from the idea of schooling — which encourages us to see those things as valuable in their own right, rather than things we are obliged to study. Browsing the shelves of a library offers the potential for the ultimate in serendipity, because if you see an interesting book, you can take a chance on it with no further investment but a little time.
More practically, libraries give everyone free access to books and information, and expert guidance on navigating that information. They are important because they embody a belief that literacy, knowledge, culture, and learning — things both provided and represented by books — have their own intrinsic value, and should be available to all.