Libraries Offer More Than Books

As a library user and part-time library assistant, it’s fair to say I’m an advocate, but the future of public libraries in the UK is a concern of social policy and sociology too. I argue libraries should be praised for diversifying their offering to cater for the demands of contemporary life.

Gone are the days of the silence rule and only shelves filled with books, today we see the making of libraries as community hubs hosting a myriad of services.
One thing that has stayed the same, rightly so, is the mission to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all. The physical library seems to harness a public space for socialising with additional focus on activities for children and regular clubs for adults. Bearing in mind the era of Liquid Modernity (mentioned here), loneliness is prevalent due to ephemeral connections. Loneliness may be framed as a form of poverty (e.g. JRF, 2013) but libraries may help those at risk of isolation by supporting social contact and access to knowledge and learning.
Digitisation may have left the value of tangible books questioned but libraries have upped their game in how knowledge can be consumed. Free Wi-Fi and computer usage has enabled access to digital information for those who don’t have internet at home. For job hunters, for example, this opens doors in terms of developing IT skills vital for a CV and the means to browse for vacancies. Internet access is still a luxury unobtainable for many, but libraries, free at point of use, can address this barrier especially for the elderly and low income families. Digital exclusion may be considered a modern-day poverty but libraries can offer a route to engage with the democracy the online world pertains.
Two modern day social issues can be eased, retaining the importance of public libraries to our social fabric. Libraries can empower so here’s to hoping the Culture Minister doesn’t make more cuts to this vital service!

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  1. A very interesting and thought-provoking blogpost- as per usual!
    Although I agree with this in principle (having practically lived in the library for the duration of my degree), I do think that in the absence of libraries, book-lovers diversify.
    Only yesterday on the bottom floor of Waterstone's in Oxford did I stumble across what sounded like a youth book club. A group of children, sat around in a circle, each holding a book plucked fresh from the shelves. I watched and listened for a few minutes as they picked their paragraphs to read out, and discussed the reasons for their personal favourites.
    What I found comforting was the way the staff reacted- rather than insist that the children purchase the books before reading them, they actively involved themselves in the session, asking questions and providing recommendations.
    In this respect would seem that the traditional library has had to merge some of its activities into commercial bookshops. I would prefer libraries to remain the hub of bibliophiles as they act as such democratic, inclusive spaces. Nonetheless, it is spiriting to see that you can take the book out of the library, but the book-lover will always find a home.

  2. I agree that book lovers have had to diversify and it's no bad thing! Some may be cynical of the offering of book shops but after all, public libraries are a business too, subject to commercial pressures and bureaucratic practices. Widening the remit of public libraries to achieve the same aims but within a new climate has just reinforced their value in society given their versatility and inclusivity.


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