Monday, November 27, 2006

Library legacy

(The now-defunct blog) Petrona kindly points me in the direction of the (also defunct) Good Library Blog. Apparently it contains "a set of ideas about how good libraries could and should be run for the benefit of their local communities". Good stuff. This seems very worthy, yet what are these benefits? It's difficult to demonstrate in the abstract. So let's get personal (in the next but one paragraph).

The blog links to a letter to the Portsmouth Evening News "written by a resident of Gosport in Hampshire". It tells the grim story of Hampshire's library chiefs cutting funding for Gosport's Discovery Centre (the appalling new name for the library). According to the correspondent, it means there will be no new books for months. He or she advises the chiefs to "take a look at Portsmouth library, a model of excellence. But then, Portsmouth ... opted out of Hampshire's administration some years ago".

This means something very personal to me. Before I started to read, I was unemployed, without qualifications, going nowhere, not likely to go anywhere, except Fratton Park. Then I started using Gosport library, the one now under a pseudonym. This was inspired by the great Miners' Strike of 1984-85, during which deep disillusionment was bred in me (the ridiculous Falklands War two years earlier, something much closer to home, had had a preparatory effect). I read Michael Crick's book Scargill and the Miners and then a few more, including some novels, notably Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. But then in March 1987 I crossed the Rubicon (or Portsmouth Harbour as it's more widely known) to discover the three floors of Portsmouth Central Library. Before long I had a job and was taking a couple of courses. These led to university, a BA and an MA, a full-time job, (now moribund) Spike Magazine, this blog and the great friends it and a new life has brought me.

This is why I am so bitter about people who blithely refer to "elitist" literature and tell us that we should all read trash because that's really what we want to read isn't it and to deny otherwise is pretentious. Rather than appealing to democratic accessibility, this smacks of the elitism it claims to resist. It was my good fortune that Portsmouth library workers stocked books by writers these inverted snobs scorn and refuse to read, discuss and learn from for fear of opening minds and actually changing anything. But it wasn't only my good fortune.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:01 pm

    What a very inspiring post. I enjoyed reading it a lot. And thank you very much for the link, very generous of you.

    I have been following Tim Coates' blog since around the time he started it. He is doing a lot of campaigning to cut down on wasteful admin and "bodies" (eg CILIP) and increase book stock. He organised a meeting at the House of Commons (which I attended!) as he's got an opposition MP interested. And so on. Tim is very keen to use the Internet to allow economies of scale in libraries (and even not the internet, eg using a boilerplate design for new buildings instead of commissioning expensive bespoke ones with the library budget). Also he wants a common library card for across London, indeed the UK -- sensible things like that, which the people who run the library system seem incapable of doing so are running down book stocks.



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