Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Stormy weather for public libraries -- and a powerful defense of the important role they play

There's Nothing Like a Library on a Rainy Night
We're lucky to have the support for the public library that we have in Madison, but elsewhere libraries aren't so fortunate. Libraries are caught in a crossfire between financial pressures and the forces of technological change.

In the UK, the Conservative government is threatening to make massive cuts in the funding for public libraries. Philip Pullman, best-selling author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, spoke movingly at a Jan. 20 meeting in the Oxford Town Hall about the role of libraries and the need to preserve them.
I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight . . . Leave the libraries alone. You don’t know the value of what you’re looking after. It is too precious to destroy.
Pullman traces the history of libraries back to Alexandria, the Egyptian library that was the greatest in antiquity until its destruction. Poignantly, the library in modern-day Alexandria is one of the cultural treasures that people of the city formed a human chain to protect during the pro-democracy uprising. We may be called on to protect ours from a less physical -- but nonetheless real -- harm in the form of political, financial and technological pressure.


Cybergabi said...

That greedy ghost is everywhere. Currently, here in Rotterdam, the zoo and the Volksuniversiteit (which is an open university to provide the public with affordable classes and programs) are heavily suffering from the budget cuts. Many smaller cultural institutions have already closed down because they aren't subsidised anymore.

It's a crying shame to see the palaces of the FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) industry all over the world, and the decline of public institutions such as schools, libraries, sports facilities and art places. Interesting also the graphic I saw the other day.

I wish they would finally introduce the Tobin Tax, plus reasonable taxes on any company that has more than 1,000 employees. Particularly if it doesn't produce anything of value to the public in the place where it's located, but only serves to support its own earnings. And cut all the subsidies to unsustainable agriculture. Oh, and while they're at it, you in the US could also claim the incredibly high military budget to be spent for something reasonable, instead of funding Lockheed Martin and Halliburton.

All that would be a good beginning.

Citizen Reader said...

What I don't understand is, aren't people still using libraries for print children's picture books? It can't be any sort of fun to read a picture book to a kid on a Kindle or even an iPad, is it?

Madison Guy said...

@Cybergabi -- Thanks. Sorry that the cut in public and cultural services is affecting you guys too. Sometimes it seems as if what we call "western civilization" is busily occupied with destroying itself, choking on its own greed and social inequality.

@Citizen Reader -- You'd think so, but I dunno. Recent article in the Times was about the surge in Kindle YA titles to teens, who seem more and more to prefer them to books. Can children's picture books be far behind? Especially if they're interactive and/or read themselves, freeing up time for busy parents?

Recently I was at Walgreens and noticed a couple little kids, maybe eight and six, left in the car by parent while he (yes, he) shopped. One was playing games on an iPhone, the other was happily engrossed in reading an illustrated children's book on the iPad. Yikes!

Citizen Reader said...

Madison Guy,
Wow, the two kids left in the car story, that's depressing. Wonder if he even bothered to lock the car. I'm not surprised--when I worked at the public library I was continually corralling toddlers back inside after they ran out the front doors, only to return them to parents who barely acknowledged me or them.

If people just want to plunk their kids down with books that read themselves, why are they bothering to have kids?

I couldn't agree with you more. Wish we could cut, cut, cut the military budget. Unfortunately, we in this democracy don't get much of a say about that.

Madison Guy said...

From my friend Joey in Rotterdam: Did I tell you that my library card in Rotterdam cost €36.

The Rotterdam Library consists of the Central Library (just a short walk from our apartment), and 23 district branches. They say @ 3 million people visit the library each year, which makes it the most popular institution in Rotterdam. With its total surface of 24.000 m² the Central Library is one of the largest in the Netherlands. The Central Library houses a library theatre that stages cabaret performances and literary activities, a cafĂ©-restaurant Dik T and a Central Discotheque where a person can borrow music-CDs and DVD.