Herefordshire County Council have just announced massive cuts (75%!) to their library and museum services. The powers that be think that libraries, museums and other cultural activities are luxuries to be given up when they run out of money. The reasons why they have run out of money are not the point here - the point I want to make is that libraries are not a luxury. They are a necessity for a civilised country - and they are rather more than a random collection of books looked after by volunteers, which seems to be the model that the county councillors favour (if they favour anything at all).
I spent a large part of my childhood in libraries. I read far more books than my family could possibly have bought for me to read - and I watched every episode of Jackanory for years. In fact, I spent so much time in my local branch library that I became a volunteer there, at the age of eleven. I had my own coat hook in the staff cubby hole, got to stamp the books, and they even tried to teach me the Dewey decimal system! (Unsuccessfully, I fear).
We used to spend all the school holidays in a caravan by the sea, and I joined the local library there (we had to argue a bit - the librarian on duty said that I wouldn't make good use of my tickets, and I'd get bored of coming in, but I soon proved her wrong).
My ambition was to be a librarian, and my favourite places in all the world were full of books.
Then I discovered archaeology, and I never did get to do any librarianship training, but I have worked in a library.
When I was working on a dig in London, and having a fairly miserable time living in temporary accommodation, the local library there was a lifeline. I was living away from home, pretty much camping out for the duration of the dig, so I couldn't bring any of my own books with me.
When I was researching local history (a local group wrote a book for the Millennium called Nobody Had Heard of Hay), I used the local library.
When I was reading theology for fun, I used the local library.
When I was unemployed, and had time to kill before I caught the bus back from town, I used the local library.
These days, computers have moved into libraries. I have occasionally used a library computer (though that phrase always makes me think of Majel Barrett's voice giving information on the original Star Trek), but there are people who rely on the library for a connection to the internet - and use of the internet is essential now for so much, including claiming benefits and applying for jobs.
Libraries are not a luxury.
“A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life-raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead” - Caitlin Moran
“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration. ” ~Andrew Carnegie
“Libraries are our future – to close them would be a terrible, terrible mistake – it would be stealing from the future to pay for today which is what got us into the mess we’re in now.”
Neil Gaiman - winner of the Carngie Medal 2010