Friday, 1 June 2012

Libraries ... an endangered species?

I’m known to have my ‘Howard Beale moments’, particularly when something in the news pisses me off, sending me into one of those: “Where the hell is it all going – or has it all just gone to hell?” rant.
For those who don’t know: Howard Beale (pictured left) was a character brilliantly played by Peter Finch in Sidney Lumet’s movie Network (1976), also starring William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, and Ned Beatty. Superbly written by Paddy Chayefsky, it’s a sharp satire on the TV industry and media manipulation of the viewing masses. Those lucky enough to watch that underated gem of a movie will never forget the scene where Howard Beale launches into one of his many rants and instructs the watching TV audience to: “Stick your head out of the window and yell: ‘I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GONNA TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’”
I’ve felt like doing exactly that many times over the years.
So, as I begin my own ‘Howard Beale moment’, allow me to also get a little nostalgic and sentimental over libraries. What prompted me was a news story that angered me: the possibility of many libraries closing because of cuts to public services. Does this sound trivial? Compared with far worse things happening in the world – maybe so, but they still play an important role in the community and there’s a knock-on effect to future generations who will lose out if libraries are allowed to be closed.
I love libraries.
I always have.
There’s something about those places.
They’re quiet … warm … they have tables and seats … shelves in multiple rows … all filled with books … multitudes of books! These days, they also stock CDs and DVDs, along with the latest newpapers, magazines and editiorials … but it’s the books that make the libraries the places they are.
I discovered the silent magic of libraries as a young child, as I walked around in awe of all those rows of books, those volumes filled with words, so much knowledge and imagination stacked, ordered and alphabetized according to author … all waiting to be discovered, read and absorbed.
I’ve spent many, many hours in libraries, enjoying the peace, the scent of the books around me. The older the book, the more distinct the odour of the paper becomes.
I’ve spoken before about the value of reading, and I will undoubtedly speak about it again in the future, because there is so much value in it. It’s important and vital to a child’s education to teach them to read as early as possible.
Sadly, for those living on a tight budget, books are a luxury they can’t afford. This is where the value of a public library can’t be measured. Register with the local library, get a library card and you can borrow all those books – for FREE! It doesn’t get any better than that.
It’s ironic that the media celebrates the anniversaries of classic author’s births and deaths, but so many people may be denied the pleasure of discovering those authors’ books because they won’t have access to a library. Future generations, along with many people today, might also be denied that pleasure.
I was a teenager during the 1980s and back then it was a hard time set to get harder. Unemployment was high and set to get higher. Kids had little to do and nowhere to go because many youth clubs had been closed down due to public service cuts.
Sound familiar?
Luckily for me, I had a dream: I wanted to be a writer.
That dream kept me from hanging around the streets in the rain, with other kids I knew back then who just wanted to get into trouble. I worked towards my personal dream in the library, which became my own quiet haven from the distractions of the outside world. It was a simple and valuable pleasure, sitting quietly in that warm place, surrounded by so much knowledge, having free access to so much literature, both classic and contemporary, text books and novels. It was the perfect place to finish up school homework assignments, write my own stories, read, and just enjoy the peace. I watched people of all ages come and go. Parents with young children, loaning books for themselves and early ‘readers’ for their youngsters, youths my own age and older students using the library to further their education, adults and senior citizens, returning books, reading the newspapers, using the place to meet their friends, while they chose other books to loan. Local reading and creative writing groups also met there.
My teen-era haven eventually became my character Jack Parrish’s haven in my book, Wrath and Remembrance.
Jack uses the library for different reasons: to read up on past events in the hope to fill the gap his amnesia has left and to be able to relax while keeping out of the way of his violent, alcoholic foster father.

Feeling content in my solitude, I settled myself at one of the desks and hid away from the world for a while. – Wrath and Remembrance, chapter 9.

The recent news of library closures, again due to government spending cuts, or whatever other reason, is nothing new. I remember entering a library during the early ‘90s. One of the librarians was sitting despondently at the entrance with a counter in her hand, clicking it every time someone walked in. She was worried back then about the security of her job because the word was out that if there weren’t enough people actually using the library, [they] could use that as an excuse to close it, put those librarians out of a job, and redirect the money … elsewhere.
Funny how history has a way of repeating itself.

There is nothing new, except what has been forgotten. – Marie Antoinette

One of the recent arguments in favor of library closures is the invention of ebooks, but that seems like a lame excuse to me. With so much going digital, will every library in the world close up for good and be consigned solely to cyberspace? After all, not everyone can afford to have their own computers and access to the internet in their homes. Many simply can’t afford to buy books, so access to libraries is vital as a resource to many children’s early tutoring. Many of the elderly and disabled have travel restrictions, so a local library is also important to them. You can’t put a price on the importance a local library has to the community as a whole.
The voting public need to speak up, protest and hold on to the library service. It’s a raw deal for all considering that they raise taxes, freeze pay rates, raise the cost of living and what it results in is people are poorer, have to shell out more to the system and get less for their money.
What a great system!
If those in power do go ahead and take this service away, then the public need to remember it come voting time … and make sure it isn’t forgotten in the future.
All this vacuous talk of cost-cutting from fat-cat millionaires at the top just doesn’t convince me.
Time will tell if libraries survive.
To say that the possibility of public libraries being closed down both saddens and angers me in equal measure is an understatement.
Is the right to access to free literature too much to ask for?
Is the right to read set to be a privilege only the rich can afford?
So … to end with the question of if libraries were animals would they be an endangered species? … Tell me it isn’t so!
What a sad loss to society that would be.


  1. Yes, it's a worry, John. I love libraries and spend many an hour in them on my travels. It's nice for an old tramp to get out of the cold and sit in an armchair with a good book or a writing pad. at least they do have computers, but I'd hate to see the books go. There's some gems in there. A swagman's home.

  2. Oh, forgot to mention, that movie was bloody good. Love the shout out of the window. I do stuff like that all the time. LOL.