Kirkbymoorside doesn’t need a library

stack of booksWe’ve blogged several items recently about the cuts to library services in North Yorkshire, and in particular about how we might keep our town library in business with volunteer labour. But is that really necessary or even desirable?

Keep our library! Knowledge is good, pleasure is good, books give you both, so books are good. Libraries have books, so libraries are good. And must therefore remain in business.

All of a bit of a knee-jerk reaction, isn’t it? Let’s look at what libraries actually provide and consider how much we need those services, given that the funds used to provide them will therefore not be available for other services.

Libraries are primarily repositories for books, which are available for reference in house, or to take out on free loan. We’ll get back to this point later. In addition, local libraries like ours have diversified in recent years, and now offer other services and benefits. The following have been suggested as reasons for keeping our library in business.

  • Encouraging children to read. Excuse me, but what are schools for? And parents?
  • Providing a warm safe place for hard-up lonely old people to meet, read the newspaper and chat. Leaving aside the question of silence in the library, which I was brought up with, we would do better to ask why old people are lonely and poor, and do something about it, rather than providing a sticking plaster. Or if you want a sticking plaster, use volunteer labour to man a café with cheap drinks and free newspapers. Then the clients could chat without disturbing anybody.
  • Providing computer access and tuition. Yes, a useful contribution to social inclusion, but it doesn’t require a roomful of books. Extend the café facilities.
  • Offering DVDs and music CDs on loan. Hardly necessary in these days of download overload.
  • Providing local information, leaflets, parking permits, etc. Off to the café with all this. Or the post office.
  • Meeting rooms? Memorial Hall, Moorside Room. How many meeting rooms does one town need?

And so to the vital question: is there any longer a need for a town-based store of books publicly available for reference or free loan?

If you are ‘computerate’, and have equipment (as you must be, to be reading this), you know that there is a wealth of information at your fingertips on the web. If you are writing the definitive history of the Anglo-Saxon invasions, or the moon landing, you might not find on line the original sources that you need, but you wouldn’t find them in KMS library either.  And for most ordinary reference enquitires, the internet is quicker, broader, and doesn’t involve going out in the rain.  As for reading for pleasure, books can be downloaded for very little money. Project Gutenberg offers over 49,000 (yes, forty nine thousand) free ebooks, and Kindle has frequent offers at 99p. OK, they may not be this week’s best seller, but do you get that from the library without waiting in a queue?

But what if you aren’t computerate, or want this week’s best seller? A new paperback might cost you eight or nine pounds. Compare that to a packet of cigarettes, a couple of pints of beer, six litres of petrol, and it doesn’t seem like a lot. Charity shops offer books for very little, friends swap them for free. And yes, there are people for whom this small outlay is beyond their means, but we should not be tackling this level of deprivation with patronising little gestures like a book on free loan.

Reading is a force for good, but it no longer needs to be tied to the printed word.

When printing was invented, did scholars rejoice? No, they did not. Back in the fourteenth century, they feared that access to the printed word would stop rote learning, which was the only way really to know and understand a work. If you could just look it up, where was the learning in that?

By analogy, we are here at another great tipping point in the availability of literature, information, and yes, dross. Older folk – I’m one – love the smell, feel, and reliability of the printed word, but it is in decline, and rightly so. Today’s children, brought up with computers, will consider print as out dated as parchment.

So don’t be a Luddite, face the future, acknowledge change, and say good bye to the local library, which was wonderful in its day, but that day is now over.

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17 Responses to Kirkbymoorside doesn’t need a library

  1. Jane blunt July 8, 2015 at 2:48 pm #

    I read with interest Ms Richards comments on libraries. As a volunteer, we see the good our local library does in so many ways. Day by day, just the fact we are there triggers a love of reading, which just having a computer at home cannot do. If Ms Richards could see the children sitting on the floor absorbed in a book they have chosen, it might warm her heart. Some things are at the heart of our British life, and the price we pay to keep our community Libraries open is one, I believe, we cannot afford to lose.

    • Jim Rivis July 9, 2015 at 1:20 am #

      The arguament that because new technologies of communication are developed that we eliminate the various processes that brought us to this point is a totally spurious and short sighted one. Should we kill off all horses too, now that we have cars ? Should we dump all paints, cameras or pencils, now that we have digital art ?

      The making of a book is a very intense process which extends far further than mere words. A computer search engine is invaluable in seeking information of all kinds in a matter of seconds but it will never, ever come close to replicating the many chosen elements which are separately considered and chosen to come together in a work that you can feel ( cover, paper, binding,size, thickness), that reach out to you in type choice, text size, color, images, weight and many other facets, all of which are taken into consideration by me when I purchase a book.

      By diminishing our experience with literature into merely gawping at a screen ( an action that is rapidly being seen as damaging to our health,especially our eyesight), a minimalist action if ever there was one, is pathetic.

      Fortunately the arguament that the internet saves trees, is both true and false. It does reduce the amount of paper required but, at the same time it frees up a lot of paper (and thus trees too) so that future generations will still be able to curl up on the couch with that precious object, magically constructed in every way, and be transported to worlds beyond our own. No I-PAD or laptop or I-Phone can take the place of that experience.

    • Jim Rivis July 9, 2015 at 3:49 am #

      I forgot to mention to Ms Richards that her concept of books being obsolete presupposes that all can afford expensive electronics and, more significantly, the charges that go with them every month. I see many cases of these items being placed ahead of basic living expenses, which is unacceptable. Children are often denied necessities while adults fritter away their time and money with frivolous texting, facebooking and twittering, ad nauseam. I deliberately only have 6 or 7 ‘friends’ on Facebook so that I do not have to suffer being accessible to 800 or 890 postings of little interest to me.

  2. Alan Robson July 9, 2015 at 4:38 am #

    I thought the post from Ms Richards was a joke and was waiting for the punchline! Well said Jane, I have 2 little ones who love the library… They choose it over the play park, or even sweets from ‘the blue shop’ as something to do in town… The Council have a duty to keep the library and will no doubt soon fail on that duty. Sad days.

  3. Louise Mudd July 9, 2015 at 10:58 pm #

    Difficult one this; online is all very well, but no good if the power goes off. That said it is very hard to get any teenager or child over the age of 10 to look something up in a book rather than go online and ‘google it’. Both are necessary but finances will always win out, especially in the current climate.

    The printed word will never be abolished completely just as pen and paper are still around. Children need to be taught a love of books alongside the I-pad and kindle (or whatever comes next). Which is my point when it comes to the need for books to exist – they don’t get outdated, upgraded or obsolete as long as you can read.

    As to whether libraries will stay – I suspect the pound is now mightier than the protesters and it would be good to have a plan B if we do lose the local library.

  4. Jane blunt July 10, 2015 at 9:28 am #

    Thank you Alan Robson for your kind words. When we read Ms Richards comments, we too waited for the punchline, until we realised I was not a joke. I rather fired off a reply while I was so incensed, but as the week has gone by I feel even more infuriated. I could relate endless stories about the value of Libraries, but I am left speechless. Our taxes go towards so many negative issues, and so few positive ones. Our Libraries are an exception. I am glad to pay to keep them going. I am happy to see our community gather under its roof. It is a safe, warm and wonderful place, and I will give my time and effort to see it comtinue.

  5. John Gafford July 13, 2015 at 11:19 am #

    Well, you can hardly expect someone who sees the provision of free access to books as a ‘patronising little gesture’ to argue in favour of a library. However, leaving that aside, the substitution of ‘vital’, or ‘essential’ for the word ‘good’, in the second paragraph rather changes the argument.
    Yes, a cafe with free newspapers and cheap drinks (another patronising little gesture?) would be an alternative. Why not provide a few books and call it a library cafe.
    Of course we can read books and access information on the internet; we can also play games,do our shopping, send emails, attend to our banking, book tickets or give the world the benefit of our opinions, but do we really want to?
    If future generations don’t want libraries then libraries will disappear but don’t try to push them on their way while so many people value them, and not just for the books.

  6. JOHN DEAN July 13, 2015 at 12:57 pm #

    Dear Friends,
    I have recently been meeting a wide range of people
    -across a range of venues-to hear and exchange views on libraries.
    One of the best antidotes to cynicism and despair about the library world is a pamphlet-‘Speaking Volumes‘ published by the Carnegie Trust (online and hard copy free from Carnegie Trust Dunfermline.
    Another tonic is ‘public libraries news‘ (a blog!!!). Try it today. Ian, the editor, is a librarian-who tries to present all views on the subjectKind regards to all.John (Dean).

  7. c Pipe July 14, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

    1. No mention here of staff skills, especially expert professional staff.
    2. The “patronising little gesture” argument could more aptly be applied to suggestions that people get knowledge from charity shops. You’ll pick up the odd bargain there, of course, but they’re pretty useless for directed study or even for the wide-ranging reading that children need to be doing while they’re developing their reading confidence.
    3. Children do need school and parent input with reading enjoyment, but schools aren’t open all year round, or even at the weekends when families could browse books together. And too few schools have librarians with the expertise to choose the right books for their children.
    4. The cost of one book may not be a barrier to improving literacy for the less well off, but consider the cost of the hundred and more books that a child can easily get through in a year when first discovering the delights of reading – not to mention the additional costs of providing for additional children in the same family – and this is precisely what is needed if we are to overcome the gap in attainment between the best and the weakest learners.
    6. Neither Project Gutenberg nor Kindle offers support for those wanting to read books that are still in copyright but are not currrent popular titles. Yet these are often what people pursuing serious interests need.
    Finally, though I agree with much in this blog, the same argument with much the same level of validity could be made against schools. Think about it!

  8. Tim July 14, 2015 at 11:06 pm #

    A few years ago, I would have agreed with the broad brush strokes of this article, there are to be fair some reasonable points made.

    Yet, I find myself a staunch supporter of libraries today.

    I cannot define the moment that my mind changed. I do remember thinking what a folly it was for Birmingham to open a ‘mega library’, yet the first time I visited I was mesmerised.

    You can find anything you need online but libraries i’d say have an edge for a number of reasons.

    They are a great calm social space in a hectic world.

    Yes the Internet is inspiring but so too are thousands of books, browsing shelves takes you into territory you might not have strayed into online.

    Plus, how communities feel about them. Whether it be a valued service or a sense of nostalgia, I think in general, people would feel a hole in their town of the library closes.

    Long let there be a place of public gathering, knowledge and calmness at the heart of our towns.

  9. Val July 15, 2015 at 9:43 am #

    Hello all

    I just wanted to comment on “given that the funds used to provide them will therefore not be available for other services”.
    Perhaps Ms Richards is not aware of how little a library service costs to run, and not aware of the fact that libraries offer a lot more than what she lists in her post. Unfortunately not even the Councils who run these services are aware. if they knew how much a library saves them money in terms of free services for children, elderly, adult literacy, business startups to name but a few, libraries would never be threatened with closures or fund cuts.

  10. Victoria July 15, 2015 at 10:23 pm #

    Appalling article. I believe books are not one of life’s luxuries but one of our rights. Ideas, thoughts, feelings and knowledge shared between human beings. Yes, I have installed that love in my children but it is the cornucopia of stories that the library represents that now feeds and nurtures that love. Much of what makes me who I am was installed into me through books borrowed from a North Yorkshire library when I was a child.

    It’s nice to be in a position where 99p is not much money or where petrol is not shockingly expensive. It’s an extremely blinkered view. I have been so poor in my time that I’ve only eaten the children’s leftovers yet, thankfully, I still had access to written meaning and feelings in free library books, a pleasure of which I could even then take my fill.

    It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to have access to books for free, and I feel sad for anyone who can not see the joy and vital importance of books to the human experience. What a tragedy. No matter how many luxuries you can afford, your life is so much profoundly poorer for it and I do not envy you for one moment neither your lifestyle nor your closed mind.

  11. admin July 16, 2015 at 10:27 am #

    I don’t think Jean’s article is at all appalling and I applaud her for simply raising the question and appreciate those who have responded. We are living in a time of welfare cuts and hard choices are being made by government which are affecting the very poorest in our society. Now of course access to literature is not a luxury but the growth of food banks across the country, the increased nos of children classified as deprived, elderly people receiving little or no home care and other numerous welfare cuts mean tough decisions have to be made.

    Contingent Value Surveys such as the one carried out by the Arts Council and highlighted in Public Library News (link) are interesting but are widely regarded as having weaknesses namely a ‘bias that may be introduced by individuals who have motives other than ensuring the accuracy of the results. If people surveyed are advocates for or against a project, they may try to skew the survey for their own purposes’. In a survey of libraries for example it is easy to understand why people may be nostalgic about libraries. While they may no longer use them themselves, or very little, they may say they would pay additional council tax to cover the cost ‘for the benefit to others’. Or simply they respond by saying they would pay more knowing full well they will not be put in that position – they would say the same for any good cause such as those highlighted above. The irony is that as a nation we tend to like paying less tax rather than more.

    I’m not saying shut the library but decision making has to be based on hard economic facts in tough economic times. I’d like to see the figures (not surveys), so:

    – how many people use the library on a daily, weekly, monthly basis?
    – do these figures indicate a growth or decline over recent years?
    – how many books are borrowed broken down by category?
    – how many different computer users are there?
    – what is the age breakdown of those users?
    – what times do users visit the library?
    – what are the running costs?
    – what would be the cost of shutting it down ie. building maintenance?
    – What is the likelihood of a new user being found for the building?

    There’s probably a whole host of other questions that could be asked which when answered would provide an invaluable indication of the costs and benefits of this public service. We could then unemotionally compare it to the plethora of other demanding needs in our community and prioritise accordingly.

    Of course everyone will have a different view of what is considered most important but without the facts decisions will be based on who shouts the loudest. Needless to say it is often those without a voice and with the greatest need who get forgotten.

    http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/media/uploads/Health_and_wellbeing_benefits_of_public_libraries_summary_paper.pdf

    • Jim Rivis July 16, 2015 at 1:28 pm #

      Gareth, Unfortunately your voice of reason will be seen by the authorities as a pathway to victory. Only absolute rejection of the concept of no library and a lot of what you refer to as ‘noise’ will have any hope of success. I say this with the greatest of respect but with the knowledge that, believe me, there is lots of money which could be acquired to maintain services. It’s just that there is so much wasteful spending on far less significant areas.

      • admin July 16, 2015 at 2:31 pm #

        Your ‘less significant areas’ Jim are another person’s priority. I just don’t believe in emotional ‘sacred cows’ especially in a time of hardship. Again I’m not saying our town library should be cut but decisions on this and any other public service should be based on facts not emotions.

  12. Abi July 16, 2015 at 2:38 pm #

    I visit the library several times a week … during the day with the children I care for to choose new books to read and to enjoy storytime.
    I go afterschool or on a Saturday morning with my children.
    And whenever I have a moment to myself I pop in to get books for me!

    I do order books online and download books, but I prefer to see a book and be interested in it to want to read it. Sometimes I see a book on the return shelf which then introduces me to a new ( to me ) author. Sometimes I take a book home and after a few pages realise it’s not the book for me. As it’s from the library, I just return it and try something new. I haven’t wasted money on something I’m not going to use.
    My children have discovered authors they would never have read, thanks to suggestions from librarians and I have found some wonderful young children’s books by browsing the boxes.
    I generally find that book shops are not that keen on children sitting around reading books that they might not buy and small children do not get involved in an online/ebook like they do with a proper book. They can choose several books and sit down and read without an adults interruption. When we read an ebook, the children are just not as engaged as they are with a paper book. Lift the flap and moving books are no good unless the children are doing it themselves. And reading books is not just good for a child’s literary, but for their physical and emotional development, understanding of the world and creative skills.

  13. Jane blunt July 20, 2015 at 7:26 pm #

    Well said Abi. It is a joy seeing the children in your care come bursting through the Library door so excited to choose a book. They so enjoy coming to the counter, peeping over, to carefully tell us a book they would like to order, and so proud when they are given the award for fulfilling the reading scheme. Technology might on the face of it may make the Library seem a redundant expense, but come in and witness yourself all you doubters, and you might change your mind. I went into Pickering Library this morning. It was heaving with all generations having a thoroughly marvellous time, both intellectually and socially.

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