Among the gay charivari of Newsnacht, a piece by David Grossman caught my eye. He did a report on Libraries the other night and at the outset asked the above question: are they "an ethos in search of a function?", in other words, merely a sentimental prop from the past, like Ovaltine and the Light Programme - an under-used throwback to a long passed age.
Libraries, like red phone boxes and belisha beacons and bobbies on bicycles are disappearing. In 1998, there were 3,066. Now there are 2,870. Just under half a million books were borrowed in the year ending 1998, in the year ending 2007, this had reduced to some 314,000.
Neither are punters going to libraries for other reasons, e.g. to keep warm or wee on the seats. Visits are down too. But a local council representative said on the Grossman piece, "We are determined to maintain the service".
Clearly the arguments for and against are obvious and tend to fall into the category of cash versus culture. But, what do you think? I use a library, but then again, I read a lot and don't want my home filled with books I shall never need again. But for me, it is an added extra. I can afford to buy any book I want. I don't need the library. The argument that poor people need them is not a strong argument. Poor people who understand and can uses libraries are quite capable of getting books in other ways, such as in charity shops or by borrowing from friends, or nicking them.
I must have more books left with friends, that are now circulating the world, than I actually have in my home. That is because nobody ever gives books back. Worse thing is, I only lend stuff I can recommend, so I end up buying the same book over and over.
But I digress. Are libraries doomed, like Post Offices, to become a thing of the past?