Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Philip Pullman Speaks for the Library

From the False Economy blog which has produced Pullman's speech about why libraries shouldn't be victims of the wider economic difficulties the UK economy is facing (Blog):


The greedy ghost understands profit all right. But that’s all he understands. What he doesn’t understand is enterprises that don’t make a profit, because they’re not set up to do that but to do something different. He doesn’t understand libraries at all, for instance. That branch – how much money did it make last year? Why aren’t you charging higher fines? Why don’t you charge for library cards? Why don’t you charge for every catalogue search? Reserving books – you should charge a lot more for that. Those bookshelves over there – what’s on them? Philosophy? And how many people looked at them last week? Three? Empty those shelves and fill them up with celebrity memoirs.

That’s all the greedy ghost thinks libraries are for.

Now of course I’m not blaming Oxfordshire County Council for the entire collapse of social decency throughout the western world. Its powers are large, its authority is awe-inspiring, but not that awe-inspiring. The blame for our current situation goes further back and higher up even than the majestic office currently held by Mr Keith Mitchell. It even goes higher up and further back than the substantial, not to say monumental, figure of Eric Pickles. To find the true origin you’d have to go on a long journey back in time, and you might do worse than to make your first stop in Chicago, the home of the famous Chicago School of Economics, which argued for the unfettered freedom of the market and as little government as possible.

1 comment:

George Lossius said...

Whilst nobody would contest the vital role libraries play within communities, large or small, the traditional notion that libraries are simply large buildings full of books has moved on considerably in recent years. Libraries are so much more than containers. They are places where a tremendous amount of expertise is used to organise, display, tailor and deliver content in order to make it accessible to the masses, be it print, digital, audio or visual.

The library’s role now extends far beyond the walls of the building it occupies. It is now a repository and access point, where information can be extracted across multiple formats from a vast array of different sources. Instead of spending hours browsing through aisles upon aisles of physical books, people can now get the content they need with a few clicks of a mouse at a workstation within the library or by accessing a library portal from the comfort of their home.

If the government proceeds with the suggested closure of close to 400 libraries, thousands of talented and skilled librarians, who have been so pivotal in the evolution of the library to date, would be left jobless. Whilst the loss of library buildings as iconic community focal points would be mourned far and wide, by far the most gut-wrenching consequence of the cuts would be the complete eradication of local libraries as services. This would not only be an irrevocable national tragedy, but it would also have a major impact on the already widely perceived ‘dumbing down’ of society.

The modern library does not need to be housed in a large building. The recent advances in technology and publishing mean that a great deal of library real estate across the country can be divested successfully without having to close these institutions down completely. The government can take advantage of these developments to save money by downsizing and keeping talented librarians in work as opposed to the widespread cuts which have been proposed.

Local authorities need to find a happy medium which allows library services to continue to play a vital role at the heart of the community, as opposed to taking an aggressive broad brush approach and enforcing widespread closures. If all the library of the future consists of is a dozen computer workstations and a help or service desk, rather like an internet café, at least the essential services that these institutions and their personnel provide will remain.

George Lossius, CEO, Publishing Technology plc