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I am here to defend the local library. Is there any need for the local library? Yes, there definitely is. At every stage of my life so far, I have needed the library.
I have loved books since childhood, and although many of you will laugh at this, a trip to the library as a small child was a treat. I loved going. I loved the quietness, the smell, browsing the shelves and then proudly handing my choice to the librarian, who back in the day always seemed to be an older lady, usually with scant smiles for a small child cluttering up her nice tidy library. I loved choosing something different for my mum to read to me in bed. This went on for many years, through most of the Dick King Smith, and Penelope Lively books. If I could have got away with it, I would have got her to read me Harry Potter too, but when that came out in my 20s, I think that was pushing it a bit! Growing up with three sisters was a bit mad, and hiding away from them with a book was my way to escape to my own world!
Then, when I moved away from home to London for the first time, the library was my job seeking paradise. I couldn't afford internet cafes. I couldn't afford much. But I could go to the library and surf the net for hours looking for a new job. And it worked, I found something.
Now, 6 years after first moving to London and in my 30s, I live in a lovely flat. But I don't have room to buy and keep every book I read. I read fairly fast - on average, a book or more a week. I couldn't store that amount of books here. So I order them from the library. Tower Hamlets, although one of the most deprived areas in many respects, has an amazing library network. I have to walk past the library every night on my way home which makes it even more beneficial for me, but the service they offer would make me go out of my way!
The extensive online library is great. I can literally type in the title of a book, it will give me a list of that title and where it is available, along with many other useful details. Everything from a brief synopsis of what the book is about, whether its a hardback or paperback, the size of the book, number of pages and the year of publication. Or if it is an audio book, whether it's a CD or cassette, the running time and how many of said CD or cassette there are. If I order a book online, it is collected at some point from one of the other London libraries in the same consortium, and then I get an email to say when it has arrived at my local library! I then just turn up at the library, present my card and the book is waiting behind the counter. How cool is that? It can take anything from 2 days to 2 months for this though, but as a free service, I am not going to complain!
I cannot fault my local library - Bethnal Green. It is free, convenient, in an amazing old building and always seems to be fairly busy. Most of the staff know me as I walk in now, and often recommend to me books that they think I would enjoy based on my previous loans. The only downside is the replacement of people with machines to check in or out your books, I can understand that this is a money saving thing, but for me it takes the personal service out of a trip to the library.
Would I pay for the service? Yes - I would. Maybe £1 per month towards services. So little to an individual, but such a huge amount to the running of the library. I would hate to see the public library disappear. I hope it is there in 10 years time for me to introduce my own children to the amazing world of books.
Sadly the internet appears to make library services ever more marginal - great to read someone so eloquently. R.
MrsW2011 25.10.2011 20:15
Hi Absinthe_Fairy - I have just posted this on the website - hopefully it may help a bit!
In my local library, the machines have replaced the people, so the ones left have less time to help with anything else, as they are normally rushing around. It's such a shame.
Absinthe_Fairy 25.10.2011 13:09
As a librarian it's lovely to read something like this in praise of public libraries! Interesting that you aren't keen on the self-issue machines. By dealing with routine issues and returns they free staff up for other tasks such as answering queries. I personally quite like them as I find them to be quicker.
Would you consider sending your review to Voices for the Library? They are an organisation which campaigns for public libraries across the country in the face of closures, threatened or real. They really appreciate peoples' stories about how libraries have benefited them. The website address is http://voicesforthelibrary.org.uk.
PS I'm not involved myself - I'm just aware of the work they do!