Libraries have been a part of my life for a very long time, well, ever since my mother took us to the library one summer and we joined some kind of summer reading challenge. I’m sure Mom’ll tell you I surpassed it, but I can’t remember other than the thrill of being able to take books home and read them any time I liked! I also remember the smell of the books. There’s something about library books… I guess it’s just paper, glue and ink, but the scent immediately reminds of the Sterling Public Library.

I know I spent a lot of time at the library once I got to Junior High, studying (well, reading really) and waiting for my Dad to come pick me up after work. Yeah, I was a geek, but I did my best to read everything I could get my hands on. That’s one of the amazing things about libraries – there’s just so much to choose from. It’s where I started reading science fiction and fantasy, then moved on to mysteries, thrillers, horror, and a lot of other things, too.

I’ve been musing on the state of our libraries for the last few weeks since I read Charles Simic’s post on the New York Review of Books site about the state of libraries in the US – Detroit planning to close all of their libraries because the city’s broke (they’ve since done a u-turn on this, thankfully) and the fact Denver’s thinking of closing 7-10 branches in the city. This has been confirmed by another friend, who runs the Fresh City Life programme at the Denver Public Library – and his job is under threat, as well.

I think the most depressing thing he says is about recent comments by politicians that “closing libraries is no big deal, since the kids now have the Internet to do their reading and school work”. What a crock. IT’S NOT THE SAME THING! I know this is ironic, considering the medium you’re currently reading this on, but the Internet is not a replacement for a library or a good book.

Living in the UK isn’t a lot better for our libraries, as central government has cut funding for all local authorities, which run the libraries as well as take out the trash, keep the streets clean and lit and everything else. As a result, all councils are looking at what they can afford to keep and what they have to cut – libraries appear to be a soft target.

Isaac Asimov's letter to children in Troy MichiganThe potential loss of our libraries is obviously on a lot of minds, as then I found a post “In praise of a library”, revealing the shocking truth that ‘this place will lend you books for free’! Then boingboing.com posted a letter from one Isaac Asimov to the future patrons of a new library in Troy Michigan (circa 1971):

“Congratulations on the new library, because it isn’t just a library. It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the Universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you—and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.”

Sadly, The Troy library is now under threat of closure.

I have a friend who can quote lots of statistics about the value of eduction to society and the importance of having these resources available and, while I agree with him, I can only think of all those kids who won’t have the opportunity to escape, even for a little while, into the pages of a good book if all the libraries go.

There’s lots of support for keeping our libraries with campaigns springing up all over the place to save local libraries. I follow the Bookseller’s Facebook campaign highlighting groups around the country trying to save their library, but I can’t delude myself all these are, or will be, successful, but the fact it’s mobilising local support for librarires has to be a good thing.

I’m going to dig out my library card and go use my library. You should go use yours, too.

Some links you might be interested in:

A country without libraries
Asimov’s letter
In praise of a library
A library is many things
Bookseller Facebook page