Tuesday, 1 February 2011


Like most other writers, I loves me a good library. A good library is a true escape. The door closes behind you as you go in, closing the bustle of the city centre behind you; and you are, at last, in an oasis of calm. The hubbub of conversation and banality fades behind you as you take those first vaunted, expectant steps up wooden stairs and tiled hall.

Even in the public city libraries, room and corridor smell of books. Their scent, dusty and hallowed, overpowers the smell of freshly-ground coffee from the tea shop and staff rooms. Walk up the steps into the reading room, and you can feel yourself enter another world: a world where there is quiet, and calm; a world where all the desks are old and wooden, and the librarians all dressed in twinsets and slacks.

Every shelf, from end to end, is stacked with books. Not every book is popular. Some, like the nerdy kid in PE class with the unfortunate co-ordination of a clumsy monkey, will always be the last to be picked. They remain on the shelves, the tops of their pages thick with dust, for months, while their more popular neighbours go out and come back again, their pages thumbed almost to the margins by the hands of many. But whether stamped out daily or monthly, the fact remains the same: a good book can take you anywhere. Held by its spell, the reader finds herself transported away to far away lands; she follows its characters wherever they go, sympathising with their struggles, resonating at the injustices they suffer - turning the pages lickety-split, desperate to know what happens next.

Yet books are not only there for escapism. They're also there to edify, and public libraries let every reader educate himself. Whatever you're interested in, whether it's animal husbandry or anatomy or particle physics, you can learn about it in the library - for nothing.

It's disappointing (infuriating? enraging?) to hear that many local authorities are starting to seriously consider closing down their public libraries. Many are starting to feel the bite of government belt-tightening, and are looking to see which of their services they can cut, or at least give a sizeable trim. In a time where massive job losses are already a reality, this seems seriously unfair. Libraries allow everybody - regardless of situation or background - to gain information and knowledge free of charge, and at the moment that seems more important than ever.

All across the country, people are protesting in new and creative ways - from banding together to take out all the books to demonstrate demand to the council, to staging read-ins and protests. The Guardian is running a blog on planned protests at libraries around the country: see their interactive map for details.

Happy protesting, everyone!

Currently reading

Invisible Paul Auster
Looking for the Possible Dance AL Kennedy
Cloud Atlas David Mitchell

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