Birmingham Libraries are now at the point where government funding to local authorities has been cut so deeply that they have been forced to appeal for 'donations' of books from members of the public and I cannot tell you how despairing I feel about it
I expressed my views about the importance of public libraries a couple of years ago because I was so angry at the closures that were taking place all over the country. Now that the government has just announced a whole new raft of cuts, leading to more closures, or decisions like the one Birmingham has taken, I am still angry.
My first encounter with books was via the local library in Welwyn Garden City, my home town, in the 1950s. 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 librarian and 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.
When I finished university in the 1970s, I started off my library career working for Harlesden Library in the London Borough of Brent. The library, housed in an old Carnegie building (see below), served a poor, ethnically diverse community and was 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 Librarian lady - she got to get back to work!'
Here, our libraries have 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.
When open, our libraries are frequently manned by 'volunteers' who cost nothing, but do not have the skills or breadth of knowledge to deal with public enquiries, (before you quibble, ask yourself this: would you like your kids to be taught by 'volunteer' teachers? Or your cancer to be operated on by a 'volunteer surgeon'?)
The word ''free'' seems to be anathema to this government, who believes that nobody should get anything without paying for it. They know the price of everything, but the value of nothing. I predict that it won't be long before all libraries are outsourced to a private company, who will start charging per book for borrowing them.
Between 1883 and 1929, the Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie funded 2,509 libraries all over the world. I wonder what he would say if he could see how his legacy is being dismantled in the UK today?