A visit to a library


                  I visited a public library recently. It was not in my constituency. It was housed in a great new building, in a large and well appointed room. I was told it was not about to close. It was run by friendly Council staff. Money had been found to set it up and keep it going.

                  During the half hour I was in or near it I did not see anyone borrow a book. I was the only visitor in the visiting party to go and look at what was on the shelves.  There were not that many books on offer. It was predominantly a fiction library. The crime section seemed to be the single biggest themed area.

                I lingered over the non fiction shelves. The books seemed oriented to middle class hobbies like antiques and foreign travel. I guess the book buying had been well judged to cater for the demand of a fairly affluent local community that said it  wanted a public library.

                 Some  defenders of every public library imply that they are for a different clientele. They conjure images of children from homes living on low incomes developing a passion for reading serious books borrowed from the local library. The library is seen as a force for self improvement and the pursuit of knowledge. I fear that in many cases this  is no longer true, if it ever was.

                     I remember as a sixth former running out of books to read on my chosen subjects in the school library. I gave the local public library a try. It had more  books than the one I visited recently. The truth was, however, that even with a larger non fiction section, it was not designed to help the serious student. The school managed to help me sort out a reader’s ticket to go to the local University library, and to the Cathedral library, which saw me through the last year of school.  When I got to university I then confronted the opposite problem. There were so many books in the university library on my chosen subjects I was intimidated by the weight and range of learning available. There lay several  lifetime’s reading, not just three years.

                It is important that those who wish to read to improve their minds or provide them with new skills should have access to books to do so. They also need access to computers, as so much good material is now available on the net.  Many libraries and educational institutions do now offer this facility. We have a range of different libraries in many communities, largely provided at the taxpayer’s expense.

Most cities and large towns have secondary school libraries, public libraries and university libraries.  Maybe at a time of tighter spending controls we need to think again about how many libraries we need in each community, where they are best placed, and how the educational libraries can be used by those who do not go to those institutions. A system of book transfer, holiday loans and the like might ease any book shortage, cater for those who wish to read well.

When it comes to general fiction libraries we need to see how many we need and where they best be located to maximise use whilst keeping down cost. Mobile libraries that bring the books from the big libraries to the public might be one way through, to improve the service at realistic cost.


  1. The Remittance Man
    April 5, 2011

    I guess the book buying had been well judged to cater for the demand of a fairly affluent local community that said it wanted a public library.

    Alternatively the book buying had been well judged to cater for the tastes of a small number of librarians who wanted a public library.

  2. lifelogic
    April 5, 2011

    Libraries have many purposes from local and general information centres to a warm place the tramps to go, a newspaper/magazine reading room, children’s play areas to a free internet service and a good music service.

    As, along with rubbish collection and the roads, it is one of the very few “public services” I ever use much I am greatly in favour of them if they are run well. I should after all occasionally get something back for my vast tax payments.

    The best are very good for getting free, often very expensive tax/legal books to investigate how to legally minimise tax payments and thus prevent the government wasting the money on something daft, pointless or damaging to the economy.

    Clearly they need to move with the times not by dumbing down as BBC has, but by using new technology (and old) to uplift, educate and inform. They need to avoid the inevitable state sector left wing (BBC type) bias too in book, newspaper and magazine selection.

    1. waramess
      April 5, 2011

      @ Lifelogic, I am shocked. Surely if you want to borrow a book you should pay to do so and pay the overheads rather than expect the likes of me to help subsidise you?

      You will be wanting me to help subsidise your visits to the ballet next!

      1. lifelogic
        April 5, 2011

        Don’t like ballet only some opera and anyway I am just as happy listening to it on my mp3 while walking or just doing my tax planning.

        I think I deserve the odd cheap book loan with all the tax I have paid – I get very little else.

        1. Euan
          April 5, 2011

          I get no benefits at all. I can never get an appointment with my doctor, there are no NHS dentists near me, when I tried to get job seekers allowance I wasn’t eligible, the roads here are breaking up, I don’t use libraries, I don’t use council bin men, if there is a pension when I retire it will be worth almost nothing, I don’t want to bomb anyone in the Middle East or anywhere else, I have no need or desire to talk to ethnic diversity co-ordinators, in fact I would have no need for anything the government provides if it would just leave me alone and stop stealing my money to bribe voters.

          1. Daniel
            April 9, 2011

            I couldn’t agree more. I am fed up hearing politicians talking about “services”. I have never had any “services”. I don’t have children and I have never been given money by the state, I have never called out an ambulance or the fire brigade, and although I have been the victim of crime on several occasions, the police never attempted to track down the perpetrators. I live in a rural area, burn my own rubbish, and pick up the litter myself from the side of the public road. I pay roughly £40,000 in tax a year. And yet whenever policiticans (not Mr Redwood!) say anything about people like me, they just say we are selfish and ought to pay more, because we can afford to do so.

  3. norman
    April 5, 2011

    Instinctively I want to support libraries as I remember the joy as a child of running home with my four books tucked under my arm and thinking about which to read first.

    Having said that, it’s years since I’ve been in a library and I know for my children they’ll get a Kindle as soon as they can read. All the classics, and books over 75 years old, are available free from sites such as Project Gutenberg, and even new e-books are reasonably priced. For more specialised, or obscure, books it may still be necessary to make a purchase but then the local library won’t have it either.

    I realise not everyone can afford this, nor will want to, but it makes me think that at some point, and it may well be now, that we will need to abandon our sentimentality and look at other options to ensure that those who want to can still have access to literature but in a more cost effective way.

    1. Stuart Fairney
      April 5, 2011

      Tell me where you buy reasonably priced new e-books from, the ones I see are crazy expensive

      1. lifelogic
        April 5, 2011

        New ones are expensive you have to read the old classics or just the free samples they do on kindle then at least you only need to buy if you are fairly sure you will enjoy it.

        But they are often more than paper ones especially second hand and charity shop ones.

      2. norman
        April 5, 2011

        By reasonably priced I suppose I mean cheaper than you’d buy the physical version and by new I mean new to me, my tastes in reading, as in music, tend to eschew anything I’ve not already heard of and know I’ll like!

        I did actually search for John Redwoods books on the Kindle store but, alas, not there yet.

        The last book I bought, which was quite new but probably old enough to be out on paperback, was £2.99. I get The Spectator for £3.99 a month, compared to £12 a month when I used to get it delivered (and it’s always on time now).

        As for cheap real books, one of the drawbacks of relying on my Kindle now is that I no longer go into charity shops – used to like browsing all the books there for 25p-£1.00.

        Shame you can’t recycle DRM protected ebooks in such a manner!

    2. Stuart Fairney
      April 5, 2011

      That said I just bought a copy of Catch-22 from an internet second hand book site for the princely sum of 1p, (yep, one penny) albeit there were postal costs.

  4. Susan
    April 5, 2011

    It is true to say that libraries no longer carry the sort of books which are necessary for study. It is also accurate to say that less people use libraries, as fewer people read these days to any great extent, other than fiction sutiable for holidays Your experience is similar to mine, whenever I have required a book to read in depth on non fiction subjects, the library does not provide them. Therefore, in the end I have always purchased them. This is were my main concern comes in, not with the closure of libraries, but the closure of specialist book shops.

    Supermarkets have taken away a lot of the trade that specialist bookshops enjoyed. Soon there will be no where to go when you want to order that special book or enjoy an hour in the afternoon perusing the shelves looking for books that will increase your knowledge. For someone who loves history, such as myself, this would be a huge shame.

    Should Supermarkets really be allowed to sell everything and take away choice?

    As to libraries themselves, the public is only interested in this sort of service when they think it is about to be cut, they spent the rest of the time ignoring it exists.

    1. Stuart Fairney
      April 5, 2011

      I think we may go to different supermarkets, my local ones seemed stuffed with celeb dross books and little else.

      As to your question

      “Should Supermarkets really be allowed to sell everything and take away choice?”

      Will you use coercive force to stop them especially since by offering products for voluntary purchase they are increasing choice?

      1. Susan
        April 5, 2011


        Yes I think I would stop supermarkets from selling certain items. My objection to them is that eventually they will be all we have, as small shops, offering a much better service go out of business. Then I suppose like with everything else, the public will wonder why they allowed this to happen. Supermarkets will then be able to control prices and the quality of goods on offer, because there will be no alternative. They control prices now, by being, in a lot of cases, unfair to their suppliers.

        1. Stuart Fairney
          April 5, 2011

          Oh no, this is an enormous fallacy.

          First off, if small shops genuinely offer a better service and enough customers think it is worth a price premium, they will prosper, if not, c’est la vie.

          As for supermarkets controlling prices, well they sure hit suppliers hard, but then a supply contract to one is quite valuable to a supplier. If the deal was so bad, they wouldn’t supply their product, instead selling it direct via the internet, to another retailer or try another business. When enough people stop milking cows, watch the price of milk zoom. Truth is there is over-supply in many cases. But if you are implying some kind of cartel agreement on retail prices, these, even if they exist, always break down as someone tries to undercut the rest. Check out Murray Rothbard on youtube.

          For my part, I prefer freedom to government violent coercion, (which when you think about it, is all government really is). Do as we say or be kidnappped to a government cage. One needs to be very, very careful before calling on the government to enforce one’s own prejudice.

          1. Susan
            April 6, 2011

            How you equate, wanting to keep freedom of choice for people in the high street, instead of the only choice being confined to supermarkets, to coercion by Government is beyond me, I am afraid. Choice inevitably means more freedom not less. So would it really hurt that much if supermarkets were not able to sell books or other items of this nature. Do you really want to see the high street die and the only available shopping experience is one large shop out of town somewhere. That may be great for you, however, there are many people who are reliant on these small retailers.

            People amaze me, in this small area where it would help to keep a good balance of choice in everyday life someone like yourself objects violently.Yet when the heavy hand of Government controls many more important areas of our life, there is a deadly silence.

            BTW It is not a prejudice on my part, I use supermarkets just like everyone else, it is about ensuring a future where people still have the facilities available to choose.

          2. Stuart Fairney
            April 6, 2011

            The coercion is in the fact you would use laws (ie government coercion) to prevent supermarkets selling some goods to ensure that the products could not be sold in such a way as to harm or possibly eliminate certain high street competitors.

            Whether or not I want something is irrelevant to freedom of everyone else to choose. If there is a commercial reason that something exists via enough people choosing freely to support it, it will continue to do so. Where there is not, it won’t.

            I can’t speak for others but I would like to see a serious government withdrawl from almost all aspects of life save for law & order and militia defence.

            Don’t worry, even if every small book retailer in the country goes, you willstill be able to buy any book you want from half a dozen internet sites. Monopolies can’t exist without government support. When they arise, they will soon be undermined, again see Murray Rothbard on this.

            Can you name a single product that only the big four supermarkets selll in the UK? No, me neither.

            Monopolies can’t exist without state protection.

        2. Johnny Norfolk
          April 5, 2011

          You would have enjoyed living in the old USSR it was like that. It will like that here soon with the ES of E.

          1. Susan
            April 6, 2011


            Thats rather a big leap isn’t it from supermarkets to the USSR of old. If you are suggesting that Britain is no longer a democracy in the true sense, then you would be correct. The UK no longer has the ability, due to the EU, to function as an independent Country, as the rules and regulations are decided outside its borders. If you are suggesting that Britain is a much more socialist Country, again you would be right. The hand of state has increased its influence on all our lives.

            However, I see no connection between trying to keep freedom of choice for people in the shopping experience, which was what my post was about, and these other issues.

          2. Johnny Norfolk
            April 6, 2011

            Susan said,

            “However, I see no connection between trying to keep freedom of choice for people in the shopping experience, which was what my post was about, and these other issues.”

            Well I do.

    2. Winston Smith
      April 5, 2011

      Supermarkets are not responsible for the demise of specialist book shops, the internet has done that. Supermarkets stocks a small selection of popular fiction. Amazon and others will supply books a lot cheaper than bookshops, as they do not have the overheads. Also, its easy to browse the internet for reviews of the books. Times have changed.

      1. Susan
        April 5, 2011


        Believe it or not I am not that old, therefore the internet and Amazon are very familiar to me. That was not my point, the experience is not the same as going to a good book shop. Also, at times after browsing through the books, I do not come out with the book I thought I wanted to buy, as there are other alternatives to hand which prove to be better. I do buy non fiction and it would be very easy indeed to pick up a copy from my local supermarket, however, I always make the effort to go to a book shop. Not everyone wants to, or is able to use the internet and what is on offer at the supermarket is very limited.

        Price should not always be the main driver for everything we do, often choice and quality is just as important. Soon in Britain, there will be no choice, because all the shops that we should value, but don’t, will be gone.

        1. Bazman
          April 5, 2011

          ‘Should Supermarkets really be allowed to sell everything and take away choice’ What would be your reaction if they where prevented from selling anything? I predict predictable.
          Popular culture and riff raff really does have a lot to answer for though,
          maybe the government could subsidise this England that never was and never will be, but only when it offends certain persons sensibilities?

          1. Susan
            April 6, 2011


            As I have never said I want the supermarkets to close, which seems to be your impression, your first comment is not valid.

            I also do not understand your comment about ” popular culture and riff raff have a lot to answer for”.

            Nobody wants to subsidise anything, its about helping to keep small shops available for those that need them or want to choose, and keeping the high street alive for the benefit of everyone, nothing more.

          2. Winston Smith
            April 6, 2011

            Like the BBC?

      2. Dave
        April 12, 2011

        You forgot to mention the other cost that Amazon (keeps down legally-ed) – taxes – that make it so competitive. A bookshop on the high street has no trivial way of (cutting its bill for various-ed)taxes.

    3. Andy
      April 5, 2011

      “Soon there will be no where to go when you want to order that special book ”

      I think there might be a couple of internet sites that could help you out. There is a little known one called “Amazon” that here is pretty good.

      Just my little joke.

      Seriously, the internet has enabled me to find many out of print books that I would not have had a chance to find any regular bookshops.

      I recently looked into setting up a second hand bookshop in the Reading area but the business rates just make this impossible, I could never sell enough books per day at £1 or £2 per book to pay the rates and the rent.

      In addition there is the competition from specalist “charity” bookshops such as those run by the British Heart Foundation, who of course get their stock for free, don’t pay staff and have reduced rates. I don’t have an issue with this, but this was a much bigger block to starting a bookshop than the supermarkets selling the top 10 best sellers.

      1. Rachel
        April 9, 2011

        Amazon isn’t the only place to source books. I take it that you’ve never heard of inter library loans? There’s something called “Legal Deposit” whereby authors have to provide a copy of their book to the British Library, and the five other legal deposit libraries (Bodleian, National Library of Scotland, etc). This means that via your local public library, you can borrow ANY book, courtesy of the British Library. In some places this is free, in others there’s a small fee attached.

    4. cosmic
      April 5, 2011

      I’d say that supermarkets and charity shops have taken the light fiction/cookery book market away. Charity shops have certainly hammered the second hand book trade.

      The big influence is the WWW, partly because there are specialist websites where you can read up on and discuss specific interests, and because of Amazon which has radically altered the book trade. Second hand book sellers have got to have a specialism and an internet presence.

      I popped into the local library for the first time in about five years, a month back. A new building, far fewer books, very few technical or academic books and the few there were to an elementary level, a large section of New Age Mind and Spirit books and fiction. Four computers with people browsing the WWW. My impression was it was dumbed down. Presumably, the number and type of books represents the demand they find.

      It does seem like a wrong thing to say for some reason, but as far as I’m concerned, it should be closed and would only be missed by a very small number.

  5. javelin
    April 5, 2011

    It’s very sad hearing about libraries having to close. It’s also sad hearing that people do not use libraries so much any more. I’d like to think that there are children pouring over wikipedia at home who have an unconstrained hunger to learn. But alias no. My teenage kids, all straight A*s, spend their free time on their iphones, facebook, youtube or the xbox. The desire to learn has been replaced with the desire for social contact. At their age I used to watch the OU in preference to SwapShop and had a wall of reference books.

    I think school is now seen as a too constrained – and following a set curriculum there is no point in reading around the subject.

    Searching google I see there are virtual libraries. I never knew they existed.

    Lincolnshire seems to have one it seems quite good – but not that many of the books are on loan (in fact 2/60 books). Perhaps kids ought to be forced to take one out.


    1. Stuart Fairney
      April 5, 2011

      If it’s all teen singers and top model type shows I take your point but don’t entirely knock youtube, I have seen some great lectures from the Von Mises institute, Peter Schiff, Tom Woods and indeed our blog author. It also has some great ‘how to’ guides ~ as a total amateur, I was able to replace the computer screen on my wife’s laptop, it’s taught me to cook and I am getting to grips (as much as an amateur can) with quantumn theory. On the negative side, I expect my door to be kicked down any minute as I once stumbled upon a field guide to stripping down an AK-47.

      (Last one was a joke Mr Moderator, don’t worry!)

  6. Electro-Kevin
    April 5, 2011

    We have always used the libraries for our twin boys and have made a point of living in well populated areas as we never expected the services to be brought to us. We read to them a lot and now they are both avid readers themselves. We could not have afforded the diversity of reading we have exposed them to without libraries.

    Next door we have a dysfunctional family – daughter in prison (drug problems)

    The other side are dysfunctional in other ways – loud parties until 5am every weekend, fights etc. Us having to call the police out using 999 on numerous occaisions.

    For the life of me I can’t imagine that either of those families read much or would attend a library recreationally.

    Both our boys breezed into the local grammar despite being youngest in their year group. They are well spoken, polite and confident.

    Doubtless they’ll be held back for being from a privileged background because of the school they went to – this couldn’t be further from the truth.

    We haven’t had a proper holiday for five years and our direct neighbours are welfare dependants. In what way are the privileged other than that we took the time and trouble to utilise the local library to educate our kids ?

    1. Bob
      April 5, 2011

      Disgraceful. By reading to your kids etc. you have given them an unfair advantage over the neighbour’s kids. In the interests of equality you should shred their library cards and replace with an X-box, otherwise they’ll never get through the new egalitarian uni selection process.

      1. Electro-Kevin
        April 5, 2011

        Now I have guilt, Bob.

    2. lifelogic
      April 5, 2011

      Your children are privileged because they clearly have intelligent sensible parents who have motivated them well.

      The neighbours are probably the product of Labour’s endless encouragement by transfers of wealth from the responsible to the feckless and the absurd pursuit of “equality”.

      1. Electro-Kevin
        April 6, 2011

        I often wonder if we’ve done our boys any favours.

        Being male and white it is now legal – under the Human Rights Act – for them to be discriminated against in the workplace for goodness sakes.

        I’m concerned that virtues such as politeness, being well spoken and well educated – without connections – will hold them back in the real world.

        Part of me wants them to be practised in the arts of dodgy-ness – street savvy and the like. They’re going to have to be a lot tougher than I ever was.

        1. alan jutson
          April 6, 2011


          If you are worried about bullying, and them able to be strong enough in mind to look after themseves, then I suggest you let them try Karate lessons.

          It not only teaches self defence, but also gives strength of mind, and the pupils and teachers are usually of a similar disposition to yourself. It will not make your kids into thugs, but will give them the confidence that they would be able to handle most situations they may find themselves in.

          1. alan jutson
            April 6, 2011

            oops Meant Judo lessons.

          2. Andrew Johnson
            April 6, 2011

            Our eldest was always at least a head taller than his peers. But he had a very gentle nature and ended up being bullied. We arranged from him to attend Karate lessons. It proved to be a great help in building both his self discipline and his self confidence. His crowning glory came when he was asked to give a demonstration of his skills to his primary school. He was never bullied again.

    3. Stuart Fairney
      April 6, 2011

      I sincerely applaud your efforts for your children in what must be difficult circumstances. Raising your children well is one of life’s great challenges and greatest achievements.

      Again, great job.

  7. Richard
    April 5, 2011

    The opposition to library closures isn’t driven by a sentimental middle class longing for books, but driven by what these closures symbolise.
    There has been many recent reductions and removals of front line services by local Councils and many services that remain are having extra charges added.

    Library closures are acting as an issue which local people can stand up and protest about.
    I pay Solihull nearly £2500 per year and each year they are removing more front line services.
    All you hear is that libraries are closing or only opening at certain reduced hours, local bus services and ring and ride servivces for elderly are being withdrawn, swimming pools closed or their charges doubled, disabled carers sacked, meals on wheels services reduced, funding for CAB bureaus stopped, youth services reduced, school crossing patrols withdrawn, car park charges increased, Scout and Guides funding stopped, refuse removal done less frequently etc etc

    There is never any mention of any cuts or savings being made at the top in these Councils only cuts at the front line.

    People are getting very angry.

    1. Winston Smith
      April 5, 2011

      They should be cutting the middle management and costly unnecessary bureaucracy, but they can’t because central Govt has legislated that all this pointless bureaucracy is necessary. Why do the have to pay staff to audit every decision they make and then produce reports on how such decisions affect minorities, ensure equality and diversity? Because Labour and now the Coalition make them through legislation.

      1. REPay
        April 5, 2011

        Spot on…New Labour is ruling from beyond the grave…

  8. Man in a Shed
    April 5, 2011

    A few years ago I tried using our local Library to study in. I then realised it was full of people who didn’t speak English and weren’t able to keep quiet. ( I did see a number of late teens trying to work – who perhaps can’t find space or peace at home to do so. )

    In Surrey they are starting eBook lending. Surely this, with the likely reduction in price for such devices is the future.

    I think the Library panic is the substitute in the agenda Labour were planning when they thought they could generate the conditions for lots of children’s centre to be closed. Since the Coalition has stepped around that elephant trap, an alternative has to be found and its Libraries.

    1. Rachel
      April 9, 2011

      If it was too noisy why didn’t you have a word with one of the staff who would then have asked these patrons to be a little quieter?

      The fact that they were from overseas had nothing to do with their behaviour. You get noisy people everywhere.

  9. Laura
    April 5, 2011

    Are you really suggesting that we base our country’s library policy not on hard evidence painstakingly accumulated but on one half-hour visit to a public library by someone who last used one in the days of the card catalogue?

    You don’t know what the peak hours for use of your library are. Was there evidence of groups meeting there – book groups or children’s storytime?

    Thanks to shared online cataloguing, it is possible
    for readers at the smallest library branch to have access to the same range of books as readers at the best central library, able to request what they need. This means that local libraries can concentrate on maintaining a selection of popular titles, with a variety of other material, predicated on local demand.

    And what is wrong with a large crime fiction section? For all you know, this plays an important part in providing mental stimulation for older readers or young mothers at home with their children.

    Finally, if you would like to take the lead in arguing that the government should negotiate with the commercial providers of high-quality information databases to insist that they alter their terms and conditions of access so that non-university users can access them, to fulfil your model of using university libraries to plug the gap in information provision left by the cuts in the public library sector, you really will be performing a noble task. But I don’t think you will be very successful at it.

    Reply: Try reading what I said – I think we are in agreement that modern technology and the range of public sector libraries can offer us opportunities. Many public libraries do not provide open access to well stocked university libraries for example.

  10. waramess
    April 5, 2011

    I can see that once again I will be in a minority over this little socialist nonsense.

    If you wish to borrow a book and there are others like you then the private sector will accommodate you. We have a number in my area that operate from shops and pubs.

    If on the other hand the government believe they do not offer the right type of books then maybe the government can operate similar small scale units where the right type of book may be borrowed at a cost.

    Most of these Libraries operate from grand old buildings that have acres of space and staff that appear to do very little all day to earn their keep, and a heating cost that must beggar belief.

    Not only that but they PAY the authors OUR money per book borrowed, for the privelige; something that my local pub and shopkeeper do not see necessary.

    No, my view would be to scrap all publicly owned libraries; and scrap all public funding for the arts whilst you are about it.

    1. Electro-Kevin
      April 5, 2011

      Sweeten this bitter pill by cutting five-a-day coordinators and outreach workers first. (as was promised)

      Otherwise this will be seen exactly for what it is.

      A sacrifice forced on people for the very reason that they are conservative, knuckle down and obey the law and are unlikely to smash the place up.

      How about reducing prisoner’s meal allowances from £3 to that of £1 as Royal Navy sailors get ?

      That would save some money. Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen though.

      It has to be shown – quite visibly – that all of this pain is going to be worth the gain or the Tories are going to end up no support and end up fighting everybody.

    2. Rachel
      April 9, 2011

      Libraries aren’t about books. Libraries are about INFORMATION. Information comes in a huge variety of formats – books, journals, conference papers, trade publications, pamphlets, exhibition catalogues, monographs, images, documentaries and movies, correspondence, archives, sound recordings, market reports, statistics, financial data, dissertations and theses, advertisements, etc. The fact that you can pick up a copy of a Steven King book in your pub is irrelevant.

      What do you think librarians actually do? Did you realise that you have to go to university to be a librarian? Many of them have postgraduate qualifications and doctorates. The people you see at a desk or shelving are more likely to be library assistants. Librarians are often more likely to be behind the scenes, managing the service.

      Just because you don’t use a library how does that make them irrelevant? I don’t have cancer, so does that mean we should cut funding for cancer research and care?

  11. alan jutson
    April 5, 2011


    I have to say I have not visited a library for a number of years, although hold a card from a number of years ago.

    When our children were young we (my wife and kids) were regular visitors (couple of times a week) and users of the childrens section.

    Like Lifeloic have used in the past the business section for reference purposes, although now tend to use the web at home if I need such information.

    Whilst not an excuse, the reason I have not been to the library for some time is probably due to work commitments, as is I guess the reason for many others. You may therefore find that a Saturday is a busy time (assume it is open)

    With more leisure time approaching, I certainly intend to make more visits in the future, and would not like to see any library close, unless a clear cut assessment had been made which showed a total lack of use by the local population.

    Guess the library holds records of the number of books out on loan, use of computers, and general visitors.

    Would be interesting to have an automatic counter on the door entry system, you may find then its gets lots of vistors for reference, reading purposes, and use of computers, although only a few books taken out on loan.

    Libraries could erhaps be so much more in this day and age, (assuming space) all sorts of educational courses, work improvement, computer skills could be run from them.

    1. Rachel
      April 9, 2011

      Libraries do have counters at the entrance, they know exactly how many visitors they get.

  12. Winston Smith
    April 5, 2011

    An interesting debate. I think libraries can remain, but there needs to be some creative thinking to give taxpayers value for money. Why do the need to be so big? Why not store many of the books centrally and users can research and order their books online or visit the library and be guided by the staff. Maybe, a weekly or every few days they get a delivery of chosen books to be collected. Then convert part of the library to other use, thus freeing up space elsewhere to reduce costs in the long-term. My local library to where I work in Central London has acres of space, lots of surly staff and very few users.

    There are very large margins in publishing. Take a cookbook, retailing at £20. Cost of production, £2? The latest (named example) pretentious drivel retails at £9. Cost of production, 50p? Publishers will advance huge sums to writers. The same left-leaning authors who rake in large sums fro their books, and campaign for libraries and unsustainable State spending, should be donating part of their earnings to sustain libraries. If they don’t then, perhaps, we need an artist tax or just a threat of one. All these luvvies have their remuneration, effectively, subsidised by the State. We pay for the libraries that stock their books, we pay for the schools that buy their books, we pay for the nurseries and Sure Start centres that give away their books. Why can’t they contribute something back, instead of bleating how we should pay more debt interest to pay for more debt to subsidise they affluence?

  13. Neil Craig
    April 5, 2011

    I have not seen figures given by either side but my gut feeling is that if you added up the retail cost of all the books borrowed it would be less than the annual cost of running the average library. I am all in favour of subsidising education but think that subsidising broadband, as an example, or cutting business rates for space devoted to bookselling would be much more cost effective ways of doing it. Technologies change and what was a very good idea a century ago need not be nowadays.

    1. Stuart Fairney
      April 6, 2011

      I have to agree. E-libraries must surely be the future.

      My son rather enjoys the local library (though I am not at all sure the librarians enjoy the attentions of an energetic toddler having Mr Croc books read to him ~ they have this sort of manic, forced smile) but I cannot in all honesty, ask others to subsidise this

  14. sm
    April 5, 2011

    E book readers seem the way to go, they will soon fall in price being cheap and plentiful.

    Content should be available by e-delivery- the library could then be freed up for other library learning functions, internet connectivity, multimedia learning booths lessons and courses on demand, maybe in conjunction with a private coffee chain and a private bookstore. Im sure an advertising sponsored ereader device is not far off- no metro type papers to produce and recycle.

    1. APL
      April 6, 2011

      SM: “E book readers seem the way to go, ..”

      They may seem like a good idea now while energy (electricity) is in good supply, a decade down the road when the energy policies of Chris Huhne and the last labour government have taken effect, we won’t be able to switch on a light let alone charge a battery.

  15. grahams
    April 5, 2011

    Laura makes some very good points.

    I rarely use non-work libraries because (I suspect like Mr Redwood) I had enough of such airless places at university to last me a lifetime. But I did visit my local library last week to read up on a big local planning application that was only available there or at the Planning Department and not online. Three others were doing the same (the deadline for comments was near).
    The large children’s department had no children because it was during school hours but about two dozen people were seated at desks reading online databases. There was also an exhibition of local arts/crafts for sale. Altogether very busy but quiet, as a library should be.

    As for old people, I recall that when my rather immobile grandfather was widowed, he took up things he had never had time or inclination for before: reading The Times on my cheap student subscription, postal betting on television racing after careful study of form (he broke even) and running through recommended lists of the best crime books from the library, which I usually had to collect. It kept him lively for 17 years. Sorry Waramess, but he would not have been able to borrow from pubs as none of us ever went to them.

    The World Wide Web opened up the vision of (nearly) free access to the world’s knowledge for all. In theory, even the lectures of the world’s greatest professors could be heard by anyone. But that vision has been crushed by the (perfectly proper) assertion of intellectual property rights, on a wholly different scale from Public Lending Right. Even ancient academic papers usually lie behind barriers such as Jstor, let alone detailed legal and accounting knowledge or financial data.
    It makes sense to pool the cost of subscriptions just as it made sense to pool the cost of buying books that each person would only read once.

    Clearly, as you suggest, the finances, staffing and functions of public libraries need to be rethought to the extent that, beneath the public gaze, that has not already happened. Just closing branch libraries for emergency cuts pre-empts that national and local debate and was not part of anyone’s policy.

  16. Damien
    April 5, 2011

    My local Camomile Street library closed on 4th March which leaves me with a choice of another 4 major libraries around the square mile! I will not shed a tear because it was really too small and over staffed for the few patrons it catered for. I was also reassured to learn that those who cannot walk to the library can order online or call and they will actually deliver !

    If libraries are to survive then they must adapt to serve the needs of their local community. As most city workers who use the library go home at the weekend one of the remaining four is considering closing on Saturday. This shows how the Corporation is meeting the needs of its council tax payers while improving though investment in the other libraries.

    Although this doesn’t apply to my situation I often wonder why other lending libraries don’t relax the Victorian ‘no eating or drinking’ rule and instead adopt a Starbucks model which generates revenue though sales and actually draws people into read?

    Is this possibly why my council tax is the lowest in the country?

    1. Mark
      April 5, 2011

      In the US, Barnes & Noble the bookseller would have a Starbucks in the lobby of their larger branches. They also provided sofas and tables to encourage people to dip into the books on their shelves. Stock was much more akin to a university library or bookshop in its scope. It was a destination of itself, and this generated sales. The physical act of passing through sections on topics you might not have considered opened you to the possibility in a way that searching on Amazon never would.

    2. Ian Anstice
      April 5, 2011

      Your council tax is the lowest in the country because you live in the City of London, where there are very few poor people needing services and the one of the highest concentration of high-rate council tax payers in the country.

  17. Phil C
    April 5, 2011

    The ease with which I can reserve from a multi-authority stock of books over the internet, and be informed by email when it is available, must surely signal the end of the traditional library. It really only needs a local place, a post office, store or community centre, where books can be picked up and returned.

  18. English Pensioner
    April 5, 2011

    Our small local branch library used to have a small upstairs balcony section in which there was a useful range of non-fiction reference books, encyclopaedias, dictionaries, directories, etc.
    Suddenly, it was closed, on the grounds of the disability act as disabled wouldn’t be able to get up the stairs, so it seems that if the disabled couldn’t have access, no-one could! I pointed out that on that basis, the whole library should be closed as the blind were disabled and surely the same rule should apply.
    I was also told “everything is on the Internet, and we have computers available”. Very true, but when a book is published, it is usually peer reviewed and can be accepted as being reasonably authoritative, but anyone can publish on the internet and one has no idea as the truth or validity of the information. There also seems to be an assumption that if it’s not on the internet, it doesn’t exist!
    I was seeking the origin of a well known quotation recently, different sites on the internet gave me a choice of three different authors, so what chance do our students stand if they use it as their research tool?

  19. Iain Gill
    April 5, 2011


    I grew up in a poor area, with hard working parents very much from working class stock

    As a young child the public library really was a self help way out of the default path the rubbish schools were setting for me

    I was back in that same library a few months ago when my dad died, sort of went on a ramble, I can honestly report back that it is still offering that same way out to kids there and boy do they need it as the schools are even worse than they were in my day, there were lots of people in there, and I imagine in the school summer holidays lots of little versions of me will be in there

    In another part of the country I now have a young child, and he visits the public library every week where the staff do special events reading to the children and so on. Those librarians on modest pay are doing more for the kids (a wide cross section of kids too) than any of the schools or government schemes. Real gem of public service run bottom up by dedicated staff, not top down dictats from central government!

    So you are on thin ice on this one in my view. A bit like much of the Conservative party spokesmen sound at the moment, no real experience of life at the rouger end of town – all theoretical experience. Thats the way they are coming across. You normally rise above this.

    On a happy and positive note I have decided who the most friendly public servants are, I’ve been a foot passenger on the Woolwich ferry a lot recently and the staff are first rate. Yes I know its outsourced and all that. But real keen hard working customer friendly ethos that is so missing in the rest of public provision. Those folk should get medals!

    Cheers etc

    Reply: My main point was we need a library service with the books people need for the reasons you describe – I was suggesting, as have some bloggers – ways we might more better books to the people who do want them.

    1. Iain Gill
      April 6, 2011

      given the amount of money mr cameron has just announced he is giving to schools in pakistan i think you should direct your cost cutting zeal over in his direction, these random acts of largess are much fairer targets for cost cutting

      and while you are on it


      The UKBA have removed the reference to the archives and have kept the old low salaries. They have also removed any reference to the salaries being under review. No doubt this will allow ever more (migrants to enter-ed)

      Not good enough

  20. Chris
    April 5, 2011

    Although I enjoy the facilities provided by Internet, I am not a great fan of electronic book-readers, preferring the real physical book to one on a screen. This is especially useful when researching things that are very visual; since one can dot back and forth between various physical books, but it isn’t feasible to have half a dozen Kindles all switched on and showing different publications. Hence the reason, over the years, I have tended to purchase any specialist books that I want to use as references for private research.
    My small local library has very little of interest to me, in terms of books; I don’t read Mills and Boon-style fiction and I don’t knit; if offered the choice of a library visit or trip to a mass of secondhand bookshops, the latter would win hands down every time.
    There is one thing, however….if the Internet were to go down everywhere, then no-one would be accessing anything. That’s where a physical book comes into its own. It doesn’t use batteries and doesn’t need an Internet connection.

  21. Martin
    April 5, 2011

    For some mostly elderly council tax payers the public library service is one they really appreciate.

    As to whether they have a long term future in a world of wikipedia etc I’m note sure.

  22. Kenneth
    April 5, 2011

    What a good idea. Identify one local provider of library services in a given community regardless of who the provider is.

    Good common sense.

  23. Johnny Norfolk
    April 5, 2011

    My brand new local libary has few books, a coffee area, its noisy, no proper reference section. I have been once and will never go again. I would have thought a bank of free access computers would have been more use.

  24. Tim Almond
    April 5, 2011

    It’s not just that we now have information on the internet. It’s also that books have become so cheap to buy, and so conveniently delivered that it’s barely worth the time, trouble or cost to go to the library.

    I recently bought a book of poetry from Amazon for about £5.50, delivered. That’s mine to keep, lend or give to others and will last for years. If I had to go to the library for a book, I’d pay £2 for the bus to town to get it, £2 for the bus to return it. Without even considering the value of my time, you’re almost at the cost of buying it.

    As far as libraries as a learning resource, I can only speak for my own industry of software engineering, and the fact is that there are far better resources available as websites or free PDFs in how to learn programming languages or techniques. The books in libraries are generally a couple of years out of date.

  25. davidb
    April 5, 2011

    Public libraries have become as you point out, a resource for the middle classes. But they are not alone.

    I was reading that Ms Minogue was asking £65 for a seat at a series of concerts in Glasgow lately, and that an extra show had been added. At about the same time I heard the bleating of those subjected to cuts in Arts Council grants. And the same thing applies. The Arts complainers were telling me how outreachy friendly they were and how awful the consequences of their subsidy withdrawal. I go to the theatres. The audiences at most of what I see are middle aged and older, and I suspect many may well also be middle class.

    So we have libraries, arts subsidies, museums and galleries, all draining the public purse but claiming how their funding is not as it really is, a subsidy to the middle classes indulgences. Yet comics and singers can sell out shows at far higher ticket prices than subsidised theatres charge for things I have attended.

    Might I be so bold as to suggest that all public subsidy to entertainments be stopped. Lets charge for museums – a rotating day per week might allow access for students and those who cannot afford the fees. Let the market determine whether all those theatre companies can draw the fans of Kylie in or should be disbanded. And I too have been to subsidised ballet performances. Even subsidised you are looking at £50 for a good seat here in the provinces. But if I can pay £65 or more to see a popstar, why should I expect to have my ballet fetish indulged by the taxpayer? Do not many libraries compete with video rental operations and how many still rent recorded music etc?

    Why is the taxpayer always subsidising minority interests at all?

    1. Andrew Johnson
      April 6, 2011

      Agree completely It is no business of government or local authorities to subsidise the arts, entertainments, libraries, swimming pools, sports halls and all the other extremely expensive and underused activities they love to be involved in. Most of the larger older libraries were built by rich capitalists or public subscription, as were local hospitals, orphanages, drinking troughs and public conveniences.
      As to the need for public libraries and book shops, they are meeting a rapidly declining need, and will wither away and die, except for those who position themselves in specialist niche markets. Let the consumer decide.
      I want to see less national and local government at every level of our lives.

  26. StrongholdBarricades
    April 6, 2011

    I agree with the comment about less libraries in a town, more focused

    Unfortunately it has become a policy to separate our academic academy’s, but I would like to see a public library being on the campus of a school. It is about simple “zoning” of towns such that a particular area must have good public transport links, and linking allows sharing of resources.

    It reinforces the “lifelong” learning implications but also tailors the libraries to their primary function. That is not to say that there is no room for other types of books, because they could be catered for through donations etc.

    I was also informed by a librarian that they had sold off all their research books because “now folk could simply use the internet”.

    I would doubt that my town library could cater for the reading list of a 6th form A Level English student, never mind any of the sciences.

  27. Lindsay McDougall
    April 7, 2011

    Libraries that are ‘free at the point of use’ should keep up to date with their customer base, which may include aging people whose bookshelves are already full. Large print editions of whodunits and salacious literature would feature. I very much enjoyed the large print edition of White Mischief, about the somewhat decadent contribution of Kenya’s white settlers to our war effort.

    Should public libraries continue to be free at the point of use? Is it better to shut a library or to charge (say) 10p per borrowing?

    1. Rachel
      April 9, 2011

      We already pay for public libraries, through our taxes, why should we have to pay twice?

      Collections may be out of date due to funding cuts – how can your library buy new books when they’ve no money to do so?

  28. HYUFD
    April 9, 2011

    Normally I have a lot of time for John Redwood, but his idea that we should only keep libraries in schools and universities and make them open to the public is not something I agree with. How many members of the public have a university within walking distance and does he really think schools are going to be happy with the security implications of having large numbers of members of the public on the premises at all hours of the day! As for mobile libraries, on that he has a point, but mobile libraries can only provide a limited number of books and should be in ADDITION to, not a replacement for, the existing library service.

    Reply: That is not what I concluded – I suggest you read the piece again.

  29. Rachel
    April 9, 2011

    I’m a University Librarian. Letting the public have free access to our resources in lieu of a public library just wouldn’t work. The content of a university library is very different, as our audience is different. Some may found our stock inappropriate (e.g. art books with naked people in them). We already have problems giving our students and researchers the books that we need (our funding is being cut too), and with the increase in student numbers recently there are pressures on the study spaces that we have. More than half of our resources budgets goes on electronic information services, such as ebooks, online indexes, ejournals, and databases. We have contracts with suppliers for these services, and they stipulate that only our staff and students can use them – the public would not be able to access them.

    Members of the public can, of course, use university libraries for reference purposes, if they bring some photo ID with them, and a number of access schemes are in place, e.g. http://www.salford.gov.uk/libraries-accesssalford.htm

    Reply: Your access scheme was what I had on mind, not your first para.

    1. Marni
      April 10, 2011

      Reply: Your access scheme was what I had on mind, not your first para.

      So you think it’s ok for members of the public to be limited to reference only use of their local school, FE or university libraries, as this is what your idea would mean. I am a university librarian and there is great demand on print books from the students, especially at peak times of the year. Universities are going to be charging £9,000 per student per academic year, students are going to expect more from their universities, not to be sharing their books & study space with more members of the public than before. And if university librarians are going to be required to provide services for members of the public as well as for their students and academic staff, this will increase pressures on an already over-stretched & decreasing staff body. Not to mention all the complaints that will be received from the public as they will not be allowed to borrow books or access the electronic databases (unless publishers/providers of these can be convinced to relax their licensing agreements). Academic and public libraries serve such vastly different interest groups and have such diverse priorities that what you are suggesting is frankly outrageous.

      Reply: Try reading what I write instead of inventing false views of what I said and then condemning them.

  30. Ann
    April 9, 2011

    ‘The library is seen as a force for self improvement and the pursuit of knowledge. I fear that in many cases this is no longer true, if it ever was.’

    Yes it certainly was. I used libraries prolifically when growing up, reading mostly fiction. I could not afford to buy books but but my local library offered me a world of books I would never have seen otherwise. The most important thing to me was that I could walk there so did not have to ask parents to take me, or worry about affording bus fare. By the time I was 15 I had read the works of Charlotte Bronte, H G Wells, Jules Verne, Jane Austen and many others. I eventually got a degree and became an author myself. Why isn’t the government defending libraries and encouraging this kind of social mobility? You clearly haven’t got a clue what libraries can mean to a community. Every library closed takes away opportunities for people who can’t afford books and want to simply browse and try something by an author they’ve never heard of, without worrying about cost.

    Another point to realise is that it’s possible to order online any book you want to collect from your local library and it will be brought in from another branch. If the libraries don’t stock a certain book anywhere, it can be requested to be ordered in. It’s a fantastic service. For instance, my local library has only a small local studies section, but a huge range can be ordered from other libraries in the city. I have found it very useful and often see other people in that section, clearly interested in learning local history.

    And why the criticism about libraries stocking mostly fiction? The illiterate children leaving school these days could have vastly improved their reading skills if they’d read more fiction, of any kind.

    Also, what’s wrong with a ‘fairly affluent local community’ wanting a library? The middle classes pay their taxes and are as much entitled to use libraries as anyone else. It can work out very expensive having to buy every single book you want to read or study. Should pensioners have to buy books they can’t easily afford, and may never read again? The important thing is that they are free at the point of use, for anyone who chooses to use them whatever their social background. Bear in mind people on council estates aren’t always poverty stricken and may be able afford cigarettes and holidays abroad, whereas people in middle class areas are often burdened with a mortgage and don’t have much money to spare for buying books. Who can judge which group is more entitled to a library in their area?

    Leave our libraries alone. Without them we will be much impoverished as a people.

    Reply: I wasn’t touching the lilbraries, and certainly not seeking the closure of the one I discussed. I was talking about social mobility and how our wider public libreary service could make a better contribution to self improvement.

    1. Ann
      April 10, 2011

      I understand your point about the wider public library service potentially making a better contribution but what worries me is your comment:
      ‘Maybe at a time of tighter spending controls we need to think again about how many libraries we need in each community…’
      This sounds disturbingly like cutting down on libraries to save money. Surely libraries should be a high priority for preservation? I don’t think mobile libraries would be a good substitute. My local library offers monthly lectures, hosts a writers group, children’s story sessions, internet access and much more. It’s hugely valued by the community. So far as I know it isn’t under threat of closure, but it would be a great loss if it ever did. It’s surrounded by a mixture of middle class and working class communities and has a lot to offer both. I’m concerned that some communities will lose their libraries and people will only be able to visit a library by travelling several miles. It will deprive people of the wonderful freedom I had as a child to wander off to the library whenever I wanted and come back with a bag full of books.

  31. Joy
    April 11, 2011

    A mobile library will never be able to carry the full selection available to myself and my daughters at my local library. I live in a small village and although our local library is infrequently stocked with newer books, it remains a well used, well loved resource.
    Through it, I’m instilling in my daughters an appreciated for books and reading, new knowledge, new experience and the use and purpose of books. I could not afford to keep up with the voracious reading appetites if my local library were closed down. I’d either have to buy books or exchange the cost for that of travel costs.
    I’ve always used libraries myself and frequently make use of my local Talisprism service to gain use of research books for my work.
    It would be a substantial loss for many to lose a local service or have it replaced by a poorer mobile service.

    I do wonder how many local services we have to lose before we start getting a reduction in council tax. We pay more but lose more all the time, I feel like an idiot, being held at gunpoint to pay money for services which decline in quality, regularity or access and here’s anotherexample of potential loss.

  32. Ian
    April 11, 2011

    Here’s a crazy thought….if they were on the shelf then it therefore follows that no-one is currently borrowing them. Maybe, John, you didn’t seen non ‘middle class’ books because they are out on loan being borrowed? Just a thought. It’s kind of how it works. Popular books are never on the shelves and unpopular ones are.

    1. Ann
      April 11, 2011

      You’ve got a good point. I waited several weeks on a waiting list for Ian McEwan’s book Solar when it first came out. I suspect it was months before it actually stood on a bookshelf.

  33. Cath Kelly
    April 11, 2011

    I am a 24 year old student from an incredibly poor area, and my entire family are on benefits. I discovered the local library when I was five, and it allowed me to read books tha I could never afford, and latterly to use the internet before we had a computer. Because of the inspiration I found in the literature from my library, I decided to do a degree in English lit. I then completed an MA and am currently pursuing a PhD in Literature. It is appalling that from half an hour’s observation you think you can intelligently comment that libraries should be shut. They are for the financially disadvantaged, a group whose lives are made more miserable time and time again by Tory governments.

    Reply: My piece was about how people like you could get access to the books you needed!

  34. Annie
    April 11, 2011

    If you were in a ‘visiting party’, don’t you think it’s likely the visit was planned for a time when it was known the library would be quiet, rather than having a tour group trouping around and getting in everyone’s way at peak times?

  35. Enrique Diestro
    April 11, 2011

    From Spain, many of us are worried about the present situation. Let me tell you why. I lived near Andover, Hants, for three years, using the library every week. It did help me learn some more English, get better at my job. Most of the disable young adults I looked after in Enham Alamein had their card, waiting for Wednesday morning to come, since this was the day for them to get into town on the bus and spend their time there, in the library, checking the mail, looking for info… It is sad for me to see that an important part of their life could fade away now. Disheartening.

    Reply: This line of response is bizarre. I did not say deny people access to libraries!

  36. Diana McAuley
    April 12, 2011

    I’m wondering John if you have visited any secondary school or academic libraries recently? At a time when all area of public spending are being cut back, how do you imagine that educational libraries will be able to provide services to the public? The stock held in these libraries will be to meet specific needs of graduate and undergrad courses on offer, and for school children.
    Where libraries are closing there no alternative in place. I hold my hands up to the new crime of being middle class, but in the library that I regularly visit there are many who do not fall into that class, particularly very young children being read to by the librarians, something that some of your correspondents above I’m sure were able to do for their own children, having the money to purchase beautiful story books to give their children a good start in life. How sad that less and less children will now have access to these sorts of opportunities.
    John, why don’t you visit some libraries in your own constituencies, and talk to some of the staff about how these libraries are used – I’m sure the staff would appreciate it and would be happy to explain the benefits the library service brings to many.

    Reply: I saw my piece as pro books and pro reading, and pro making available the right books to the people who need them. The piece was about social mobility, and did not offer clear advice on how to manage local library services, saying that was a matter for local decision. It did say we need people to have access to the books they need, and not all will be available in a general local library.

  37. Geri Lamb
    April 12, 2011

    Narrow minded is a term frequently used about this man,with reason.He described single parent families as”one of the biggest social problems of our day” shortly before his ex wife became one.Now he thinks the working class have no interest in antiques or travel,or “God forbid” crime.I am a working class,recently single mother who buys and sells antiques for profit,is interested in world travel and works part time in a city library.Just because we don’t have the books on “our shelves” doesn’t mean we cannot reserve them from other libraries for customers.Crime stories are universally popular regardless of age,class,ethnicity or sex,as is our library.Students from our renowned grammar schools and college come to us for books as well as primary and secondary.We have a multi cultural/class cliental who use our books,computers and services.Mr.Redwood was lucky enough to go to Kent College,who obviously didn’t have enough speciality book stock for him let alone the other students,all be it 40 odd years ago.If he is comparing then to present day libraries and a half hour visit where his companions couldn’t be bothered to touch the books(who and why were they there?),he is also unrealistic.

    Reply: Try reading my blog – I said no such thing and think no such thing.

  38. Paul
    April 12, 2011

    I’m the son of a labourer, and a Computer Science graduate, working as a systems developer in the City. I don’t think I would have gone to university if it were not for free borrowing of books from libraries. My teachers were not very good, so I had to go to the library to teach myself physics, maths and computing. The great thing about a library, when you have no guidance, is that you can try books to find the best ones. Fiction was influential too. Your sniffy attitude underestimates genre fiction. Science fiction stimulated me to think about the posibilities of technology (and does still). Kipling, Lawrence (DH not TE), Virginia Woolf, Eliot (George & TS), Dickens, Amis (Kingley & Martin) all had their influenced in broadening me from just science geekery.

    Reply: Glad to hear it. My piece was about how people can get access to serious books.

    1. Paul
      April 17, 2011

      Your piece also questions if libraries were ever enabling self improvement. My experience as a child from a low income single-parent (my mother died) family borrowing science books from the library is a counter-example to what you claimed,
      “Some defenders of every public library imply that they are for a different clientele. They conjure images of children from homes living on low incomes developing a passion for reading serious books borrowed from the local library. The library is seen as a force for self improvement and the pursuit of knowledge. I fear that in many cases this is no longer true, if it ever was.”
      Libraries were where me and my fellow students studied for our A-Levels in Maths, Stats, Chemistry, Physics and Computer Science. I achieved three A-Level A grades fortunately in the time before the dumbing-down of the science curriculum. I didn’t have the contacts you had to give me the opportunity to join a university library in the 6th form. I’d have loved that. To be honest, in my teens I would have envied you, but that envy would have been a spur “to prick the sides of my intent”. But with maturity I see there is nothing to envy.

      Reply: I had no contacts to join the university library – I applied with the help of my teachers.

      1. Paul
        April 24, 2011

        You did not respond to the main point about my A level class mates using good science and maths books for self improvement, something you doubted ever happened.
        You chose to respond only about the minor point about the contacts you had. My understanding of your contacts was, as you article stated, your teachers. You had teachers who already had a relationship with the university library, or were willing to apply to the university on your behalf. So you had contacts who had contacts, or had contacts who had the confidence to make contacts. My contacts had neither. I was seeing having contacts as a transitive relationship in a “networking” scenario. So you were 3 degrees of Francis Bacon 😉 and I was perhaps 5 to 6 degrees.

  39. Paul
    April 12, 2011

    my mistakes
    Kingsley not Kingley (but a funny slip)
    influence not influenced
    Also I forgot to mention the two books I’m borrowing currently:

    The Intelligent Investor, Benjamin Graham
    “By far the best book on investing ever written.” – Warren E Buffett.

    Capital, Karl Marx

  40. Cecilia McNicholas
    April 26, 2012

    When I saw the news of the cutbacks in library services I was appalled especially as Mr Redwood had spent only a very little time in the local libary – not enough time to make a proper evaluation. My letter in response to this was printed in the Daily Mail. According to Mr Redwood the books on offer were middle class stuff eg travel, antiques etc. I am ‘working class’ and I have to say that I used our local library from a very early age and read books on travel, antiques and many other subjects as well as fiction including science fiction and fantasy. I would like to do to continue to use my local library but it has been closed as part of the cut backs and it is now quite a haul into the town centre for many people to borrow books. If I really liked a book then I would buy it for keeps and build up my own mini library, using market stalls and charity bookshops where possible to keep costs down. This creates business for the local shops including Waterstones, Virgin, Fopp etc as well. A TV programme may create interest in the original story and lead to sales after then reading and liking a library book. There are also reference books for students and hobbyists whether gardening . motorbikes, college courses etc. Also it creates jobs in the library itself as well as in the wider community. Any books I have read and do not wish to keep, I pass onto friends, doctor and dentist surgeries ( not War and Peace or Dr Zhivago although sometimes a long wait may need a long read! Books, audiotape books for people with sight problems and so on are a necessity not a luxury. They create business via sales and aid people to enter other worlds and very importantly learn in a pleasurable and relaxed way as well as sheer enjoyment. I just wonder how much MR Redwood reads and does he enjoy it? It is wrong to deprive people of this pleasure and/or necessity by making it more difficult a well as affecting the bottom line of businesses and gradually losing more jobs in the process. Reading has affected history and brought awareness as well as pleasure – that s the end of my own mini ‘War and Peace’ style rant.

    Reply: It was a rant. I am a great fan of books and libraries, and their modern electronic versions. I have often argued that we need good reference and study libraries offering free access to all who wish to study. The question is how many you need and can afford in each locality, and how you create critical mass so a given library has a wide range of sources. Electronic delivery helps with this problem. The delivery of entertainment is a wider issue, made more complicated by ebooks. As you acknowledge there are many ways of obtaining or borrowing a book for pleasure, as well as through a free at the point of use public library.

Comments are closed.