What is happening to libraries in the UK is shocking. I read this quote in the Guardian recently, from Margaret Hodge, the Culture Minister; “I do care passionately about libraries,” she says, “but they have to change. The footfall is down and book issues are massively down. Only 14 of 151 local authorities have libraries that offer e-books.” She said that in March, 2010.
In February,2011, 375 public libraries across the UK face closure, with dropping numbers in visits and tightening council budgets to blame.
To me the library is not only about books but about information housed in a central place freely available to all. It’s not about footfall either. It is a symbol of knowledge and hope.
As a child in Africa and I heard more stories than I read. Books were not in the front of my mind until I reached my late teens and libraries less so. Ironically, I now make my living by writing and illustrating books. I couldn’t say I saw that coming!
I’ve visited a fair number of libraries all over the United Kingdom and the United States, each with their own personality, each with dedicated and knowledgeable staff and most importantly strong and involved communities. Librarians have innovated and turned their libraries into community hubs where more than books are on offer.
My young daughter reads more than I ever did at her age and part of that is down to the local library. She reads to me at night, and just before I nod off I feel as though I am re-living a slightly different version of my own childhood. Putting that aside, books have made my daughter more imaginative, more chatty, more witty and more curious.
Meanwhile, ancient books and manuscripts are being digitized in far away places such Timbuktu, Mali. Up to 150,000 manuscripts, some of which date from the 13th century and document subjects ranging from science and the arts to social and business trends of the day are available to view on-screen in a high-tech facility. The same is happening in museums all over the world.
At a time when the battle between the digital and monologue worlds is raging the loss of a number of libraries seems to show that victory belongs to the digital world. There is a clear line between those who want to keep the printed word on paper and those who strongly believe the future of the printed word is on-screen.
I have come to see the printed and displayed word as completely separate products carrying the same content.
The modern library might turn out to be a place where books are part of the solution and the librarian is still the user or visitor’s guide. The key to the library’s survival, therefore is the librarian and the accessibility of the information.
Octavo (www.octavo.com) use ‘the best in advanced technology to uncover and enhance the seminal ideas of the past in ways that will offer inspiration for the present and future.’
The Domino Project (http://www.thedominoproject.com/), the brainchild of American marketing expert Seth Godin seeks to reinvent “what it means to be a publisher, and along the way, spreading ideas that we’re proud to spread.”