Gareth O’s story

My experience of libraries growing up was much the same as Rolling
Stone Keith Richards‘. So I won’t go into that, you can read the
article linked (only a few hundred words, I’d like also to
return KR’s compliment to the libraries by saying some of the best
reading I have ever done has been song lyrics :) As to how I wound up
working in libraries, I found myself (opportunity more than anything,
I was unemployed) working for the libraries 6 years ago on a small
part-time contract, which became more or less full-time with
additional casual hours. 4 years ago I started Library Web – a news
radar site for public libraries, I couldn’t afford the fees for a
further formal education, but I did a have lot of web skills at that
point. Library Web was essentially my own personal study of libraries
using library culture to be found on the web. I am aiming at this
point to develop Library Web professionally creating a useful Web 2.0
tool for those studying a field in the process.

So what do I know about the Value of Libraries :)

Well, it’s a big subject, probably as big as the total number of books
in the libraries. I don’t think even Library Science itself fully
understands the Value of Libraries, though it is a relatively young
science so can be excused :) However, a few salient points.

For your £18 a year (the cost of the library to the taxpayer is
usually around this):

Access to approx. 25,000 books and hopefully within walking distance
from where you live (and organised in a way that gives a concise cross
section of the full breadth of Western culture). There are a further
million or so books in your Central library and authority as a whole,
with access to the nation’s book collection in its entirety as well (I
can’t begin to tell you how many books that is, 50 million?).

Writers. I do not read as much fiction as I would like to, some
recent reading though: I actually bought a copy of The History of
Love by Nicole Krauss (a book with a title like that had to be bought
:) I usually read Liverpool Reads books (everybody reads the same
book at the same time once a year), and Andrea Levy’s Small Island
tends to stay in mind. Continuing the theme of Small Island, it is an
anniversary year for J D Salinger and his 1951 novel The Catcher in
the Rye (read at school), possibly prompting Kathryn Stockett’s The
Help to be chosen as a TV Book Club recommended read, and although
I have not actually read The Help, I do enjoy reading about books and
the discussion that follows. A quote from the author Alberto Manguel
on the subject of what to read: “But the best guides, I believe, are
the reader’s whims—trust in pleasure and faith in
haphazardness—which sometimes lead us into a makeshift state of
grace, allowing us to spin gold out of flax.” [A reader on Reading, Alberto Manguel]

“Libraries have traditionally been a symbol of permanence. A town with
its own library could feel confident that its citizens had a reason to
stick around and help the town grow, that a source of knowledge was
there, that the library added value to the town.” [Lisnews] — I think it is
received wisdom that a library adds value to housing in an area – for
children, for reference, for leisure, community also. A lot has been
written on the importance of the libraries, but I will limit myself
here to two quotes: “Wherever there is a civilization there must be
books … Their values lies in enabling men to do, think, feel and
understand better than they could if they depended solely on their
individual experience and that of those with whom they were in
immediate contact. Books can abolish time and distance.” [The public library system of Great Britain: a report on its
present condition with proposals for post war reorganisation
, Library
Association, 1942, Lionel R McColvin] I think
this quote speaks for itself, the second quote: “What makes people
intelligent is their ability to learn and reason—in short, to adapt
and thrive within their environment.”[3] — a library surely has to be
a major ability for a person in this respect. A community that loses
its library is a poorer community for it.

One last thought: “People wish also in the main, to give their fellows and themselves the
opportunity for self-improvement … human sympathy … the universal
desire for an increase of human happiness by an increase of knowledge
of conditions of human happiness” [Library Daylight – Tracings of Modern Librarianship, 1874-1922,
Edited Rory Litwin]. We know we are getting our
values right when we feel happy.

Gareth Osler
Library Web
10 Sept. 2010

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