Thursday, 19 August 2010

A crime against learning

"Shutting libraries is a crime against learning" said the Mirror in a short but sweet editorial. "Jeanette Winterson hits out at threats to libraries" said the Guardian.

There was however a significant difference between the two. The Mirror editorial was an attack on Government policy. Ms Winterson's comments in part were an attack on libraries. She warned that libraries which replace classic literature with DVDs risk failing the children of today.

"[I would] start at A and read Jane Austen and move to B and read the Bront√ęs and go on from there," she told her audience, but on a recent visit to her old library she found that DVDs had replaced many of the books, which led her to become concerned about the formative reading experiences of children with little other access to books than through a library.

"What worries me is that a load of shite has been talked about digitisation as being the new Gutenberg, but the fact is that Gutenberg led to books being put in shelves, and digitisation is taking books off shelves," said Winterson.
"If you start taking books off shelves then you are only going to find what you are looking for, which does not help those who do not know what they are looking for."

Meanwhile our very own (until she left!) Lauren Smith has Comment is Free piece on Doncaster library cuts published in the Guardian. As usual this has attracted a large number of on-line comments and many of these are very supportive of libraries. However two of the first postings were:

"Most libraries are now book free zones. Utterly dumbed-down centres of political correctness - a cafe & creche with a dvd browsing service tagged on."

"If they hadn't tried so hard to compete with internet cafes then they might be in a stronger position. Looking at my local library it would seem those using the computers are a generation or so younger than the book or music borrowers. Libraries would again be in a stronger position if they could alter the demographics of lending."

This is very much what Bob Usherwood was warning us about in his book Equity and Excellence in the Public Library; why ignorance is not our heritage. We have to defend public libraries and ask the public to defend them - but we also have to think hard about what libraries should be. In an attempt to keep issue and usage figures up; to make libraries popular, accessible and "non-elitist" have we gone too far? Have we dumbed-down and lost sight of the role of libraries as providers of quality reading and education? Should we be more aspirational on behalf of our communities? Should our motto be that we won't give people what they want because they deserve better than that?