Friday, December 3, 2010


We're all a bit jittery at work. Meetings abound and it's not good news.

Smaller branches of the library will probably close next year, and even if they do stay open - run by volunteers as proposed - the existing staff will be out of work, at a time when unemployment is already high and rising.

We've tried many strategies to tempt in new users (is that the right word? Sounds a bit addict-y) but the truth is libraries aren't *cool*. Add to that terrible faux-pas the fact that books are cheap and everyone has knowledge at their fingertips in the form of the Internet and you may well ask, "What's the point of libraries?"

In fact somebody did - huddled at the back of the village hall in his puffa jacket. Words like 'community' and 'public service' were bandied about in response, but he didn't look convinced.

In the interests of answering this question I asked around friends and family and discovered that out of everyone, only my Mum uses her local library up in Scarborough. One friend worries about 'germs' so would no more borrow a book than run her hands round the rim of a public loo.

Another belongs to a book-swapping scheme, so doesn't need the library for reading purposes, and pays a small monthly fee to Love Film, which means she gets sent DVDs through the post that she can return at her leisure - "without paying a fine," she added pointedly.

My own children (sob) claim libraries are "a bit smelly and for old people" although I do bring home books and films for them every week whether they like it or not, which they do read and watch. But they no longer venture inside of their own free will.

In fact a lot of people I spoke to said they have fond memories of libraries; that they used to go a lot when they were younger, but don't any more - they just never think about it.

Somebody said they're not "relevant" in the modern world.

One or two said they're good for using the computer and printing stuff out, but they don't bother looking at the books.

Doesn't bode well does it?

What am I going to do with all my cardigans when I no longer work in a library??


Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

My daughter asked me what she had to do to join our library the other day. Then asked me why I looked so surprised.

I love the library, but she's never shown an interest beyond the internet. Her friends are starting to go there to study and research for exams and hopefully she will be too. I was thrilled.

Dumdad said...

Worrying times. Hope you keep your job. If not, sell the cardies.

Anna Scott Graham said...

There are some lovely libraries here in my neck of the woods, and since the recession hit, I've read that attendance (Is that the right word? Maybe patronage is better.) is up. One is close to our house, and when eldest daughter is home she's all over it. I rarely go, naughty I know, but every time I'd drive her over there the car park was jammed!

Save those cardigans! When you're a famous author, they'll be requested for posterity, along with library memorabilia. :)))

David said...

I always feel quite sad whenever I hear of possible library closures. I have very fond memories of our mum taking us to the local library when we were younger and the thrill of being able to choose our own books. Now that I live in Brighton that thrill of going in to the library here and not being quite sure which book I'll come away is still there.

The main library in Brighton is housed in a beautiful, modern glass-fronted building and luckily it seems to do very well for visitors. One of my favourite things the staff do there (and maybe other libraries all over the place do this but I just am not in them to know) is they come up with constantly changing displays of themed books and leaflets giving you the low down on particular genres and unusual themes. I've often come across new authors I would never otherwise have tried.

This link gives some info on how the library here manages to cater for all sorts of users - you're right, Karen, it just doesn't sound right. I suspect with modern technology being the draw that it is, many people use it often without ever borrowing a book but I don't mind as long as the books are there too!

I feel really strongly about possible library closures. They do so much for the communities they are in and I definitely think it will be a case of not knowing you miss something until it's gone. After all, what will be put in its place - more identikit shops and coffee houses - because we don't have enough of them!

OK, I'll stop ranting now I promise!

DAB said...

Bugger! Bugger!:(

I wish I had the answer to the sad plight of the library. Maybe we could combine them with say a pub, art centre, community centre, cake shop, post office etc etc. Endless posibilities. Oh, let's start a demo! "Long Live Libraries".

I'll keep my fingers and toes crossed for you m'dear. Tommox

Cathy said...

I'm sure there is a future for libraries, but maybe someone needs to find a way of making reading in general more relevant to younger people, especially boys, and perhaps the libraries need to make themselves more social. I would love a library with a coffee shop where books and magazines could be browsed over an Americano, a bit like in Borders in the past.

broken biro said...

Your post made me very sad, Karen. As you know I only started working in libraries this year and in general many of your fears are probably well-founded.

Lots of things have surprised me about my new job and subverted the cliches people role out: we do have young people coming in (we have a whole vampire section for the Twilight kids and lots of graphic novels); we're a large branch and get at least 20 new books in a week so the chances of getting one first are pretty good if you're iffy about germs (and don't people grope books in shops too?); there are a surprising number of people who will read a book a day; computer use is vital for the 'hard to reach' sections of our community; we DO have a coffee machine; you can see books going out faster when they're on special displays.

So I feel really positive about the future of libraries - though as you say the smaller ones are vulnerable. In this time of austerity there aren't many places you can get something for nothing - let's hold on to what we have!

broken biro said...

P.S. If anyone wants to support their libraries the main criteria their value is judged on is how many books are borrowed - so USE 'EM or LOSE 'EM

Try my cunning 'free' Xmas pressie idea (hope you don't mind me putting a link, Karen, but it does tie in!

Shallee said...

So sad. I love the library, and have since I was a kid. My son and I go several times a month, and we love it. I didn't realize I was so out-of-date. :)

Good luck, I hope everything turns out okay for you.

Golden Eagle said...

I love libraries. They're one of my favorite places, and I go to at least one every week . . . It's said that they're beginning to fade away.

I hope everything works out for you!

Anonymous said...

Commiserations on your work jitters.

One of the unique selling points of the library service is access to 'the back list'. Not everyone wants to read brand new books all the time. Libraries are also brilliant for trying out new authors or any books that you might not be inclined to risk your money on. I borrow more than I actually read; if it turns out that a book disappoints me then I cast it aside and pick up the next one.

Not enough is made of lifelong learning and the need for all of us to continue expanding our minds after completion of full-time education. We are encouraged to eat 5 portions of fruit and veg. a day (UK) and take regular exercise but what about our minds? The sooner libraries are thought of as gyms for the mind, the better.

I agree with the points made by Brokenbiro but decisions are difficult for local authorities. Something has to go and libraries have always been an easy target.
However, don't throw out your cardigans yet.

Lane Mathias said...

Oh what a sad state of affairs. I love my local library - order from them regularly and am often the first borrower which is always a thrill.

Like one of your other commentors has said - the ever changing displays prompt me to investigate new writers. But apart from just picking up/dropping off books, I like to read the notices, browse the magazines and chat to the staff. It's special and it would be a crying shame if these special places were brutally cut.

However, those who would be most affected by cuts aren't the likes of me. It's the elderly who go to the clubs as it's easily accessible and doesn't involve a bus ride to town. It's the mums with young ones, it's the kids who uses the computers after school rather than go home to an empty house.

I'm keeping it all crossed for you. And your cardis:-)

Paul said...

Troubling times indeed Karen.

When I tell people I'm basically studying librarianship, they often scoff and ask if I think libraries will even be around in the next x years. It's a hard question, but I usually just resort to expanding on what my degree actually involves.

The debate about public libraries is more and more worrying though. Sad.

Gary Green said...

It's a worrying time in public libraries, as you say.

Along with a few other librarians, I helped set up a campaign, called Voices For The Library, which you may be interested in.

It's a national campaign defending public libraries in the UK.

Thanks - Gary

Fran Hill said...

S'criminal. When I go on holiday, the first place I head for is the local library, just to check it out. There's nowhere like them. I hate the fact that our local library is getting those digital book return boxy things. I want a librarian! (I mean, just when I'm in the library, obviously.)

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I understand the demise of the bookstore but not libraries! Never libraries!

Susie Vereker said...

I do like libraries, but find I don't always return books in time then it's rather expensive!Must get into habit of going again. Son 3 likes them too, and borrows audio books. The 8 year old in my family absolutely adores the library.

Lisa Potts said...

Karen, I hope you library weathers the storm.

I take the kids to our local branch about once a week. I've tried to pass along the importance of supporting your local library and we always try to make it to their monthly book sales.

There's nothing like walking through aisles and aisles of free books wondering which one to pick this time. And with the economy the way it is, I just can't afford to buy new books, even from discounters like Amazon.

Jen said...

I've read lots of fascinating posts lately about the place of libraries. I must confess, despite being one of the bookiest people in the western hemisphere, I'm not a member of a library. Before I moved to Blighty, I was in the library every Saturday morning, browsing, borrowing, studying and sometimes just snatching a little peace and quiet.

I wish I could pinpoint why I don't do that anymore. I suspect the ease and cheapness of clicking the Amazon 'Buy it Now' button has outweighed the effort and cost of driving half an hour and paying parking fees which makes borrowing for free less, well, free?

I shall try to make amends. It's all to easy to forget the knock-on effect this sort of trend has and I'd hate libraries to disappear forever.

Amanda said...

Such sad times, Karen. I always wanted to be a librarian (or a library assistant ;-)) - Can't see it ever happening now.

Suzanne Ross Jones said...

This is so sad. But don't feel it's necessarily down to lack of use by the public - cuts are being made everywhere (our local council is even cutting the numbers of maths and Enlish teachers. I'm guessing they feel libraries are luxuries they can't afford. We all know they are necessities, but when it comes to cost cutting, those on high don't think the way the rest of us do.


joanne fox said...

This is a terrible shame. We have 3 libraries within reach, and I use all of them. But I can foresee that 2 of those may disappear in the round of cutbacks as they are quite small branch libraries.

Hope your job survives. Cardigans are so useful in all kinds of situations though, not just in libraries! x

Kath McGurl said...

I must admit I don't use libraries much - am time-poor so I tend to buy books online because that's quicker. My 13-year old son is a big library user though. He calls in every week and borrows whatever his mates are currently recommending. He often orders books to be kept for him as well. What's the point in buying books, he says, when you can read them for free from the library?

Nicolette said...

I used to work in a library, but I left when I decided to go into teaching. In the library there was so much retailing to take care of, stock-checks to do, marketing of courses that were running there, teaching people how to use the computers, teaching them how to research the most obscure items they could come up with, dealing with homeless people who came in for the warmth, dealing with those that came in for companionship because they lived alone. Working in a library is so much more than being a librarian nowadays. They are trying to move with the times, but I do think they've lost their identity a bit. What's the answer? I'm sorry, but I simply don't know! said...

Hi Karen
Yes it is a sad reflection of the times. I mourn the attitudes and the changes with you. We have a snazzy new library locally that sadly has very few books!

Denise said...

I'm another Amazon junky who doesn't go to the library any more unfortunatley. It's possibly improved a lot in the last 20 years, but when I was last there they just didn't have the kind of books I wanted. They were aiming at their most popular customers and spending their money buying family sagas, which weren't my thing.

I did read an article about them last week though, saying they'd joined a national scheme to offer the loan of e-books (though it wouldn't work on the Kindle). Though I guess that wouldn't require a lot of staff either, bugger. (Am now worrying about my large stash of cardigans. Didn't know I had to work at the library to wear them!)

Alice Turing said...

My sons and I visited the local refurbished library only the other week, and took our two next neighbour's children - who had already visited a few times - with us. We borrowed several books. We had a nice time. I use libraries all the time as quiet places to study / get work done, as well as places to find books. I love libraries. How awful that they are so ill-treated and ill-used.

Cait O'Connor said...

I have worked as a librarian (in many departments) for 15 years and am also feeling very vulnerable. I run a small branch library, am the only member of staff and it is only open part-time. We were under threat a few years back and the local community put up such a fight that we were saved. Wales is actually bucking the trend as visitor numbers are going up. Perhaps people are not so well off here and can't afford to buy books. I could write an essay on the importance of libraries, they are about so much more than just borrowing books but you don't need me to tell you Karen.

If you want to destroy a society the first thing you do is close libraries - and did you know that we have been funding Pakistan to help them set up libraries! It beggars belief....

Keep up the fight.

Honeysuckle said...

It's been coming for a long time hasn't it? And it's so sad. Libraries have done so much to make themselves more relevant - reading groups, reader review boards, computer courses, bibliotherapy - what more could they have done?
But the sad thing for me in this is that it's another part of ruining the local community - the local Post Offices have all gone so older people now struggle to get their pensions and soon they won't be able to tootle along to their local branch library and have a (quiet) chat and some free entertainment. It's very sad - local society's being wrecked and we're all watching it happen and those who make the decisions can't see the damage they're doing because all they value are pounds and pence.
The cardigans - I'd save them to wear when you're volunteering at the library you used to work at...

Talli Roland said...

Karen, fingers crossed. I go to my local library every month (at least) and I love it...

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,
I'm so sad when I hear of libraries closing. I mean, where else, and for which commodities other than books, can you go, take away as many as you want, use them, and bring them back to exchange them for more without any charge? I would be completely lost without my library - there's no way i'd be able to fund my reading habit! All the best, hope you and your library are safe. -Camilla

Jean said...

It's so sad to think about the closing of libraries. I remember well the very first time I went to a library when my mother took my brother and me. I can remember wandering around in awe, fascinated at the sight of all those books. It was so exciting when my mother said we could choose one each to borrow. I can still remember that I chose a book about a girl called 'Milly Molly Mandy' and my brother chose a book about insects (why insects I don't know).

Glynis Peters said...

Move them to Cyprus! We don't have 'proper' libraries and I miss them sooo much!

Cafe style libraries might be the way to go. Warm meeting places are always welcome.

karen said...

debs - I joined all mine as soon as they were old enough to walk, but they rarely went once they reached their teens, even to study :o(

dumdad - That's a good idea - would cost me a fortune in postage though!

anna - Users tend to fall into two categories in my experience, the very old and very young - it's coaxing that middle group in that's proving so difficult.

david - I think a library's appearance actually does help and ours are all a bit antiquated, with that funny smell which doesn't endear them to people!

tommo - I think combining them is definitely one of the options being discussed - a cafe would be my choice, as long as there was lots of cake!

cathy - To be fair they've tried really hard to jazz up our branches and make them more 'book-shop' like, but they still smell like libraries unfortunately!

brokenbiro - I think having a coffee machine and toilets would actually help (we get asked about both a lot) and we also get lots of new books every week - it's changing to public's perception of libraries that's difficult in my opinion :o(

Great link by the way!

shallee - We definitely need more customers like you so spread the word and thanks for dropping by :o)

the golden eagle - It's funny how most of our customers are regulars who've used the library for years - it's so hard signing up new people.

christine - It's true that libraries are so much more than borrowing books - the back list is a good point too. We're always happy to buy in whatever a customer requests too if we don't have it in any of the branches.

I'll hang on to the cardies for a bit longer though!

lane - Well said. I do feel all the new ideas we've implemented recently completely alienate the elderly, yet they're the ones who use the library most often. Crazy.

paul - That's a very good point. Hopefully it won't come to that but whatever happens your degree won't be wasted. (It's looking like Missenden and Wendover will be closing next year.)

garygreen - Thank goodness for people like you :o) There really is a lot of public support for the libraries, but how much it will help in the long run remains to be seen.

fran - Librarians are much more useful in a library :o) They're all going self-service now. We got rid of our stamps a couple of years ago sadly.

kareng - Well said. Long live libraries!

susie - Fines are annoying, but I suppose it's one of the few ways libraries can claw back a bit of money. Even staff have to pay them now, which we never used to!

lisa - That's really good to know. We have book sales regularly and even Amazon can't compete with 5 books for a pound!

jen - All valid points. Years ago new, hardback books were expensive so the library was the way to go, but with all the discounts now it's easy to chuck a book in the trolley with the chickpeas.

Not that I eat chickpeas you understand, but it sounded better with 'chuck'.

karen said...

amanda - Libraries seem to be getting rid of staff rather than taking any one sadly. Don't know if it's the same across all counties, but definitely in Bucks :o(

suzanne - I guess libraries are an easy target, and councils don't see them as vital - only as a business that's not making money :o( Damn them.

joanne - Yes a couple of our smaller branches are almost definitely going to close next year, as the argument is most people these days have access to the nearest town :o(

I'll hang on to the cardies as it's so cold at the moment!

womagwriter - I like your son's thinking! You're right though, it's so much easier to buy online these days and most people have a computer and can even do it online.

nicolette - It's true that working in a library is about so much more than stamping books - not even that these days! I don't know what the answer is either sadly - we've tried everyting to 'revamp' the library's image but it's hard to change people's perceptions if they haven't set foot in one for years.

madeleine - Snazzy library with no books is not a good combination! Our branch has plenty of books but could do with jazzing up - no money unfortunately!

denise - Of COURSE you have to work in a library to wear cardigans - everyone knows that. Tut.

Libraries do have more than sagas these days, honest - but I fear 'tis too late to convince you!

alice - It really is a shame, but while our regular users know how brilliant the library is and are up in arms about the proposed closures, there's probably a huge percentage of the public who sadly couldn't care less.

cait - That really does beggar belief when you think about it, and yes it's our smaller branches that are the most threatened unfortunately. Hopefully Wales will continue to buck the trend :o)

honeysuckle - Sadly no one can afford to give up paid work to become a volunteer, so the cardies will have to go on ice :o( The only thing left standing in the viallages when the libraries and post offices have closed will be the pub at this rate!

camilla - That's a very good point. Users can take out 20 books at a time in our county and even on Amazon I couldn't afford to buy that many a week!

jean - Oh yes, I remember reading Milly Molly Mandy :o) I used to look forward to going to the library every Saturday morning and picking my 3 books. I'd usually read them by Monday!

glynis - I can't imagine a place without proper libraries! Cafe- style is one of the options being proposed for the bigger branches, so you never know :o)