Thursday, 31 May 2012

Library Louts

I first posted this blog a couple of years ago because I was so angry at the closures of public libraries. Now that this vile government has just announced a whole new raft of closures, I am still angry. My first encounter with books was via the local library in Welwyn Garden City, my home town.

Dumped in the children's library, age 4, I selected a book from the box (in those days all picture books had the same plain library covers). I opened it up and there was Orlando, the Marmalade Cat, his Dear Wife Grace and their three Kittens, Pansy, Blache and mischievous Tinkle.

Apart from starting my well known love of cats, it also started me on the path to reading, which led me, in time, to become a writer. My parents did not consider buying books for young children as a necessity, as many parents for a variety of reasons, still don't. Without the books I borrowed each week, my life would have been impoverished.

''A non sequitur, I freely confess, but I find it hard to put into words how upset I am at the disclosure that Kensal Rise library, in London, has now had all its books carted off in the middle of the night by Brent Council workers. The furtive and underhand way in which this wicked deed - sorry, I find no other words to express it - took place, resonates with all those other occasions in the past when the banning, or burning of books has marked a civilization in crisis, or steep decline.

I started off my library career in the 1970's working for Brent Libraries, and knew the branch, and the other six that have been shut, very well. Many served poor, ethnically diverse communities and were used by people who could not afford to buy books for themselves, or for their children. The staff were treated with the utmost respect by locals, who valued what we offered and what we represented. I vividly recall being beckoned to the front of a long queue in the local Caribbean greengrocer - the owner succinctly informing the rest of the line that: 'this is the Liberian lady - she got to get back to work!'

Here, our libraries have recently been 're-structured to meet the needs of the modern user'. As far as I can see, this means they shut at odd times, just when you want to borrow a pile of books, and far too much space is now given over to desks of computers, at which people sit and dicker all day. Mainly playing mindless games. Books? Nah, don't need them. Got to move with the times. Books are relegated to fewer and fewer shelves.

The playwright and novelist Michael Frayn has commented of the closure of Kensal Rise library: They took the books out and the plaque down? So the library is now an unlibrary, in the way that people became unpersons in the darkest days of the Soviet Union. I hope they took the titles of the books off as well. Removing unbooks from an unlibrary - who could possibly object?'

I do.


  1. This destruction of libraries is the most unconscionable act of stupidity I've encountered. I too am appalled by the Kensal Rise stupidity - it's hard to believe, except that we must.

  2. Wonderful, powerful post, Carol. Libraries were part of my education, and my children's education. As an author, I enjoy giving talks in libraries, meeting interested and friendly people - audience and staff alike. But for how much longer?

  3. Thanks for your comments. And of course the current trend to close libraries will seriously hit those writers who depend upon them for PLR - which I believe the Feral Overclass who currently dictate our 'Media, Culture and Sport policy (interesting juxtaposition that says so much) also want to cut. I weep for the unread words ...

  4. The ongoing closure of libraries and the move to abandon the paper book is not part of a progressive is part of a oppressed society where the needs of the people are being brutally cast to one side by those who are not in need of such a vital service...yes...we're back to the self serving politicians and their sycophantic clan!
    The library isn't a place exclusively reserved for the borrowing of's also a place where communities meet and interact physically...( now there's a nuance )'s a place of cultural warmth and learning...a place where a persons want to read is not restricted by their lack of's a place of sanctuary...both mental and physical as for many, the borrowing and reading of books is the only escape they have from the madness and the mundanity of their outside world!.....Trust me...I KNOW about this!
    I'll stop there, Carol, because I'm starting to spontaneously combust!...which reminds me...what's next?..Public burning of all books? where I have I seen that before???
    Exceptional post Hedges....on the ball as always...I'm now off to chain myself to a library...xx

  5. I remember vividly the first time I went into a library. I had no particular idea about what I would see there, except perhaps a large book store... and was immediately filled with unquenchable awe. No noisome commercial enterprise here! The quiet enveloped me. A feeling of reverence. So much knowledge! I felt small, insignificant, but empowered.

    I know that sounds silly, perhaps even pompous, but it's the feeling I had. And still have when I happen into a library. How dare they close one. Libraries are as important to many of us as churches, perhaps more important! They require no preconditioning, just a yearning for a world larger than we may otherwise ever experience.
    Thanks for the reminder, Carol. :)


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