Thursday, 3 February 2011

Libraries or incubators for the newborn? Have we come to this?

Public Libraries. Ahh. Saturday mornings,
when our Dad took us down to change our books - and we always came away laden with the full quota. Once I'd grown out of the(at that time in the 50s and 60s)limited children's section, I was unsure what to read. Green/e seemed a good place to start, being my own surname and so in this rather haphazard way I worked my way through the entire canon of Graham Greene and Henry Green. How they coloured my (green) world view for years: a mixture of Greene's Catholic guilt in exotic Third World countries with Green's exotic, louche , world-weary cocktail party society. As a 13 year old with no experience of any world other than a convent-school, it was certainly a revelation. (Not that I had any understanding that affaires amoureuses were going on in the latter.) But I had entered a grown-up world of sensibilities, complicated half-inarticulate emotions,that spoke to my own adolescent loneliness - perhaps I was not so alone. And what an introduction to style: Greene's page-turning pace and Green's elliptical, minimalist dialogue.

With my father in the forces, and a new posting every three years, there was no way he was going to transport boxfulls of books every move. So Dad's shelves were limited to mainly factual books -a leather-bound Encyclopaedia was prominent. I am aware this itself is a luxury to many working-class homes where no books at all is the norm. In these days of the internet, perhaps homes no longer need encyclopaedias in book form? But facts are not enough.

How about the awakening of the imagination, fostering of understanding and empathy with other people? (If you want to understand emotional relationships, read novels). But in our Dad's defence, I must add that having married a French woman (after divorce from my Mum) he developped his knowledge of French by reading the sort of novel he might have read in English -mostly war novels such as by Ernest Hemingway. (He was a military man but a sentimentalist.) So, of course, I read them too. To this day if you mention 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' I go a bit blank until I realize, ah, you mean 'Pour Qui Sonne le Glas.' But a handful of books was not going to last the summer hols. Thank G for the public library.

At Mum's she had a collection of books she had hauled around with her from move to move so I was fortunate - I worked through one or two novels by Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, Rosamund Lehmann at just the right age of 15/16: but even Mum could only transport her very favourite books at each move (another story). Thank G for the public library...
without which I doubt I'd have made it to university.
And so on..
I'm told our house is known as 'the second hand book store' by our son's school mates when they visited - since you have to squeeze sideways down the corridors inbetween the bookshelves, and every room has that slightly musty smell of old paperbacks...but even in a house of writers like ourselves, there are more books we want to read, far more than we can possibly afford to buy, or have space to it's back to the public library.

And what about people who were not fortunate enough to be born into a home full of books? Or cannot afford any books, let alone more books?

I can't help noticing that the libraries proposed for closure seem to be those in rural areas with a scattered, scant population (not many votes there then) or in socially deprived urban areas (they don't need 'culture' then/probably don't use their vote?)

What are public libraries for? To make money, to be self-funding, to create a work-force that will accept the lowest pay and longest hours for the highest profits for their capitalist masters? I think not. OK. So I've set my stall out and need go no further.

I think the most appalling justifications I've read this week about the proposed library closures are those of one Oxfordshire councillor in responses to Philip Pullman's brilliant and incisive protest against the closures. The Oxfordshire chappie allegedly (put that in to save legal costs - Ed)said, or allegedly words to that effect : Ok Hands up. But it's not my fault. It's the LibCons (cons in that they managed to fool you all -Ed)who have cut our budget to such a measly pittance that we are forced to choose between libraries and education/hospitals/old people/the disabled/the homeless/the insert anyone else who is needy. And of course, you wouldn't want me to sacrifice any of those would you? Pass the buck.

And we call ourselves a civilized society that could even imagine that this choice was a necessity?

See Phillip Pullman

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