Ask Not What Your Library Can Do For You…February 5th, 2011 at 18:40
I’ve been watching with a sickening feeling the fight to keep Britain’s libraries intact as the conservative government hacks and slashes their funding. It’s just awful. And maybe ours in Australia aren’t under current threat, but who’s to say that next time the Liberals get in we won’t be in the same situation?
Libraries are so important, and those of us lucky enough to live in countries that have a thriving library system need to remember that.
Tasmania has a fantastic crop of state libraries, all linked by computer so you can order a book from their wider catalogue and have it sent to your local library. I use this service a lot, as I don’t have the leisure to browse shelves with two children – I discovered last week that my now-walking-with-confidence toddler Jem is a right library rampager, and was shocked to be overwhelmed with the memory of chasing Raeli around the same aisles, something I had completely forgotten.
So yes, I order books or CDs I want, and pick them up when they come in.
Both my girls love the local library. It was one of my regular haunts with Raeli when she was tiny – we often went to the Rock n Rhyme baby sessions together, and she had her own library card from the time she was six weeks old. Okay yes, I often take my own stuff out on her fee-free card, I’m only human!
Last week I discovered to my disappointment that we had missed the fortnight of cool school holiday activities they had been running, so as consolation to Raeli, we took Jem along to Rock N Rhyme, which is much the same as it was when Raeli was little. She was delighted to recognise many songs from Play School, and enjoyed clapping or singing along with her baby sister. Jem was mostly well behaved, though she did blow raspberries entirely through one of the stories.
I often use the library for research, pulling up non fiction titles by the half dozen, often for books I only dip into, and would never need again. I have also raided their great YA, manga and murder mystery sections. I’m always a little surprised (though I shouldn’t be!) at how up to date they are – my current obsession with Doctor Who audio plays has found several there, to supplement my buying from Big Finish. I don’t feel guilty about listening to the ones I get from the library – they’re obviously buying the CDs regularly, which is yay for supporting audio play producers. I listened to my first Charley & C’Rizz and Ace & Hex plays through the local library, which means it is directly responsible for several hundred dollars making their way from my account to the pockets of the Big Finish crew. Totally worth it.
Oh and I just discovered that we now can download audio books and ebooks directly from the State Library website. Eeeee. When Kaia told me she got ebooks from her library in Sweden, it sounded like heaven and the future rolled into one.
Raeli has her own school library now, so this recent visit was the first we had made together in ages, and certainly the first since Jem was able to walk (and run, and hide, the minx). Usually when I go these days it’s on the rare occasions that I am able to leave the kids at home and escape somewhere with my laptop for a couple of hours. Nice flat tables. Nice mostly quiet atmosphere. Nice earbuds. Bliss.
Our local library is always full of people. The computer banks are probably a big reason for that – anyone who says the internet has rendered libraries redundant is speaking from a position of extreme privilege. Not everyone can afford the high prices Australians are charged for the internet, or for a decent computer. Jobseekers, teenagers and the elderly all congregate around the online centre that is attached to our library. But there are many other people too – young parents by the bucketload (okay, the kids and the books are by the bucketload) because where else can you go that’s free and undercover, to entertain your children and get yourself out of the house?
Where I live, in Kingston Tasmania, we have lots of suburb and lots of shop and due to an extreme mismanagement of urban planning, no parks or playground areas that are in any way central. This was a particularly big deal when Raeli was little and I didn’t drive. Now I can whisk her and Jem off to one of the further-out parks, but back then the library was one of the main places I took Raeli because I could get there by foot.
Also, you don’t get sunburnt in a library. Just saying.
There are lots of reasons why I regularly fall out of the habit of using my library. I don’t like to be pressured when I read, and sometimes that 3 week limit just tick-tick-ticks away at my subconscious. It’s understandable – I often buy books only to have them “cook” on my to read shelf for months or years. Books with a use-by-date stress me out. Then there’s the severe embarrassment of having to go to the counter and admit that the toothmarks in that brand new board book actually belong to your child.
Then there’s the fact that my eldest daughter discovered Barbie movies through the local library. Barbie movies. It’s not all sunshine and free books. Sometimes kids develop their own reading habits in these places. Anarchy, I tell you. Anarchy!
But that seductive wench of a library always lures me back, with its convenient position, and the catalogue that is somewhere for my fingers to travel to when I’m in a MUST-ACQUIRE-BOOKS phase but Fishpond & Book Depository have already had too much money off me that month.
We recently went down to visit my Mum in the arty village of Cygnet, for lunch and shopping. She dropped in to her local library, which was closed when we first went past, because it’s so small that only one person staffs it a time, and they had gone to lunch. But when we got in it was warm and inviting, and while her library doesn’t have the same bells and whistles like ours, it had a kiddie table that Raeli was immediately drawn to, and my Mum is also able to order any book from the State Library catalogue and have it delivered almost to her doorstep.
Libraries, in short, are awesome. (did I mention that mine is still displaying a poster of Power and Majesty, seven months after I gave it to them?) When I haven’t been for a while, I forget how awesome they are. But if anyone tried to take mine away, I would be devastated, and angry, and I would fight tooth and nail to keep it. Via the Guardian (which is where I nabbed these great poster images), I’ve been following the stories about various closures and protests, and how the very idea of the library is changing from something that is council/government funded and provides an actual career path for people, to something that is run by volunteers. It’s sad, and it’s scary, and I hope it’s something that never happens here.
But just in case it does, it doesn’t hurt to remind yourself that if you have a library nearby, there are plenty of resources you could probably use, and using those resources is important. It’s not just something you have to do in the weeks when you’re a bit broke and don’t feel like hitting up Amazon. Libraries are necessary, and if we don’t use them, we could lose them forever.
What’s your local library like?