Valuing Public Libraries

Birmingham Public Library

I attended a debate last year run jointly by the Birmingham Salon and CILIP West Midlands about‘What Libraries are for’. It was an interesting evening and I really enjoyed hearing peoples views on libraries, whether they should be a quiet sanctuary, hired space for communities, running vegetable contests, space to inspire learning etc.

It also got me thinking about what public libraries mean to me and in particular it’s the aspect of social inclusion that really appeals.

During the debate there were numerous mentions of ebooks and ebook readers & their impact on the library. Personally I am not sure how much of a driver this is to re-invent the library, while these are available they are still not accessible to everyone unlike a public library. I do use my phone for reading but that hasn’t replaced all my print books and I don’t imagine it will do for some time. Someone raised the point of ‘are libraries just a warehouse of books or a space to inspire learning’. As the book industry evolves and new technologies arise I think it offers libraries more opportunities to evolve services and continue to provide access to information.

Another  key point that was raised during the debate was the about the library being a service not a building. This made me wonder whether success is still being measured through footfall of the physical space as libraries continue widen access further and deliver services out to communities as well as providing the information to your desktop.

From a personal point of view I have always been a keen user of public libraries, they have & continue to provide me with information, resources, the space etc. As a child libraries gave me the opportunity to indulge in my love of reading which in turn led me to aspire to learn more, become educated, go to university, find a profession. Libraries helped me level the playing field providing me with the same opportunities as others.

Looking back I have been regularly using public libraries at least once a month over the last 20 years and really appreciate the chance to discover new authors, new recipes to try, indulge in my aspiration to be creative through numerous self help and guide books.  I have enjoyed seeing collections evolve, introduction of multi-media, e-resources, PCs, integration of local services etc. In many cases some have been more successful than others but I have always appreciated the efforts to keep the marvellous public service alive in times of clear under investment and resource.

I now have a little boy who we’ve taken to the library since he was a week old. While we are fortunate to be able to provide him with a collection of books at home, we could never match what is available in the library. Its great to see his evolving use of the library, from crawling to the box to throw books out to beginning to look through and choose himself and now even tentatively foray into the non-fiction. He loves having the choice to try things out, see if its interests him find out about what he likes and dislikes.

A key word that continues to keep coming back to me with public libraries is the opportunities they provide to help people fill their potential.

Damyanti Patel

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