Thursday, December 22, 2016

Libraries are dying – but it’s not about the books | Simon Jenkins

 Libraries | Ebooks| Advocacy | Programming | Trends


The internet stole the monopoly on knowledge but it can’t recreate a sense of place. Revival is possible



Illustration by Ellie Foreman-Peck
‘The library must rediscover its specialness. This must lie in exploiting the strength of the post-digital age, the ‘age of live’.’ Illustration: Ellie Foreman     
Public libraries have had another bad year. They are like churches and local railways. People like having them around, and are angry if they close. But as for using them, well, there is so little time these days.

The latest Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy figures on library closures are dire. In the past five years 343 have gone. Librarian numbers are down by a quarter, with 8,000 jobs lost. Public usage has fallen by 16% and spending by 14%. Book borrowing is plummeting, in some places by a half.

The admirable children’s laureate (and cartoonist) Chris Riddell said during the latest campaign for libraries in November that, “if nurtured by government, they have the ability to transform lives. We must all raise our voices to defend them.”

But what sort of library are we defending? I’m not sure the fault in this lies with that easy target, the government, nor even in the once-gloomy fate of the book. Last week I was in my excellent local library and it was near empty. The adjacent Waterstones was bursting at the seams. I know it was Christmas, but something tells me there is a problem with libraries, not with books. When an institution needs a luvvie-march to survive, it looks doomed.
I was a library addict

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