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Libraries under threat

January 01, 2013

ONE of the most widely quoted maxims says, “If you want an education, go to the library”. We have been mourning the demise of library culture in our society and quoting examples of the West, but things seem to be changing. No, they are not changing at our end. This time the West is stooping low to come to our standards. Due to budget cuts, more than 200 libraries have faced closure throughout Britain this past year. According to the annual survey by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, “… there has been a large increase in the number of libraries and mobile libraries closing”.

For long considered a much-valued hub for communities, campaigners are striving to restrict this decline. Apart from writing letters to the authorities concerned, protesters have participated in sit-ins outside closed-down libraries in an attempt to address this issue and bring it to the fore.

Writer Lee Hall wrote an impassioned open letter to the leader of Newcastle City Council, Nick Forbes, about the proposed closure of the majority of Newcastle’s libraries. He wrote: “Working men and women in the north-east have fought, generation after generation, for the right to read and grow intellectually, culturally and socially – to be as ‘civilised’ as anyone else. It is a heritage that took decades and decades to come to fruition, but will be wiped out in a moment. You are not only about to make philistines of yourselves, but philistines of us all.”

Studies paint a very depressing picture: visits to libraries across the UK have fallen down 6.7 per cent over five years. There also seems to be less adults borrowing fiction – down 5.4 per cent – and non-fiction – down 7.3 per cent. The only silver lining is the growth in borrowing of children’s fiction, though a meager 0.3 per cent.

More than just for book-lovers and a place to house physical resources of books and other media, providing computers and access to information, libraries contribute socially by improving the sense of community and allow a place to network, a vital requirement in this digital age.