The humble library is ‘Medicine for the soul’

I’m going to have a serious rant about libraries now; but beyond my geeky outrage there is a serious point to be made…

The inscription above the library entrance at Thebes read, ‘Medicine for the soul’, never a truer word was spoken. Reading this news that the BBC reported depressing bit of news this morning:

New Government figures show that the number of people who visit a library weekly has dropped by 32% in five years. More than 60% of us have not stepped foot in one in the last year.

I find this depressing because I am a library lover, a dying breed it seems. (As an aside, I hope students weren’t included in these figures, as they should definitely not be in that 60% who haven’t visited a library in the past year…)

The Library at Thebes

I love libraries, I love being in them, browsing the books, finding a chair and having a read, and I still go the library and get books out, even though I purchase books regularly too. One of the first things I did when I moved to Leeds (Sep 2008) was join the central and local libraries; perhaps because I always feel at home in a library wandering around the shelves. As a young child, at school and with my parents, we would visit the library every week, it was something we looked forward to and was encouraged. I’m sure there are families that still do this, but apparently not enough.

The death of the library is symptomatic of a larger problem; the anti-intellectual brigade, the waning concentration spans of younger generations, technological takeover, and general lack of love for the written word. I’ve already written about my dislike for the kindle, iPad et al, but this is something else. Libraries are not the hallowed halls of quiet reflection and study, but some sort of community centre, not solely for reading and researching, but meeting, and talking and generally being all things to all people. In an effort to attract a wildly uninterested youth, libraries have become computer and music stores, with coffee shops and meeting rooms. How are we going to take libraries seriously, and encourage love of reading and studying if libraries are losing their purpose?

I see nothing wrong with encouraging healthy reverence around books and in a library; libraries were always hallowed places when I was younger, no talking, no eating, and certainly no mobile phones, even the kids reading corner was whispered and hushed. Now modern libraries have kids sections with instruments (!), banks of computers right next to the books – where you can plug your headphones in and annoy everyone with your tinny music, stands in the lobby where people approach you with the latest community scheme, and talking is allowed, nay, encouraged! I firmly remember the stern glare from the librarian if you made a noise, ran anywhere, or generally were a little swine with an utter lack of respect.

Isnt there something to be said for encouraging kids to sit and read quietly, and absorb what they are reading? It’s good training for later life, for further study, for work, for concentrating, and simply, for learning something. Books teach you stuff kids!

And today’s worst library crime – mobile phones are allowed in certain areas. In my university library this meant the

The more 'modern' library...

lobby and stairwell areas. Doesn’t sound that bad you might say, but no one paid any attention to the rule. The majority of these well-educated young people just didn’t seem to get it and still answered a call at the top of their voice whilst strolling to the stairwell when they talked loudly enough for you to hear every word of conversation through the door. And the sound of vibrating mobile phones on desks all over the library haunts me. There were a fair number of brazen souls who would not even bother leaving their desk but just have a conversation right there, normally along the lines of:

“Are you in the library?! OMG! Me too! Wow, look at us, studying and stuff…I’ve been here ten minutes and I’m bored already. What floor are you on? OMG, get down here we can work together LOL…yeah bring Chloe! So glad you’re here too! Shall we go to the pub in a bit…”

So this probably warrants another post on students; but I’m not going to get started on that one right now…

I’m sure I sound cantankerous and unreasonable, but I just like a bit of quiet in the library….

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About michelleallison
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4 Responses to The humble library is ‘Medicine for the soul’

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  2. Claire says:

    On the whole, I would agree with what you’ve written!

    My parents used to take me to the library, and it would be almost an adventure, deciding which books we (my sister and I) would be taking home.
    I had a very similar experience at university too, where fellow students would have a complete disregard for the rules around where using their phones was allowed
    The one part of your post that I would have to disagree on would be the part relating to the Kindle and iPad.
    Now, I haven’t seen your previous comments on them… but I am pretty sure your views on them are quite similar to how I viewed them.
    I thought that they were quite a lazy way of reading books, and that it jsut wouldn’t be the same looking at a screen, instead of looking at the pages… even the difference when turning a page!
    To mention but a few reservations I had….
    However, I am now considering buying a Kindle.
    As you know, Michelle, I am currently living and working in Japan, and with very little (even less than that) knowledge of the language, I cannot indulge in reading works of Japanese authors, written in Japanese, so, thus, I must read English books… This is where the problem lies!
    Unfortunately, I was given 23kg of weight allowance to fly over, and had the honour of paying £40 because I had the cheek to want to bring two suitcases to happily provide a year’s worth of clothes!
    Books weigh a lot… and my predecessors left a few books, but nothing I would want to read, particularly!
    This is where I think a Kindle would come in perfectly.
    However, I digress!
    Going to a library should be something to look forward to for children, and no less for adults, and you’re right, a dying breed indeed!

    I have mentioned this to you via a different medium, but your writing is really brilliant, and something that you should definitely do more of ^-^
    Keep up the brilliant work!

    • Thanks for commenting Claire! I hear what you are saying about your baggage allowance, I’lll bet a Kindle would come in handy for you as Japanese is a bit taxing…! I’m just old fashioned I suppose, I like having a book in my hands. I’m not a gadget-y person really either, and I think although a Kindle would be really practical for you in your situation, it might not be very practical for other people. Can’t really take it on a beach can you?! Imagine th sand and your cocktails and greasy sun-cream fingers all over it! Also, when you’re on a plane, and no electronic devices are allowed…you won’t be able to read during take off and landing!
      Maybe I’m fault-finding, but you still can’t beat a book in my opinion! Let me know when you get one how it works out for you though.
      Thanks for your support, I’m going to try to keep it up 🙂 And you get learning Japanese!

  3. Pingback: Starting a degree in PR? Read this first : Behind the Spin

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