More than just fiction? It’s unbelievable!

Thank you to John Dolan for sending us the following guest post.


I recoil when people say libraries are “more than just books” but let’s paraphrase that; libraries are also more than just fiction. Around a third of books borrowed are non-fiction. Many meet familiar needs in gardening or cookery; even more on all conceivable themes, history – local and everything else – politics, philosophy, science, travel, arts, health, life, the world ………

Children’s reading shifts as they grow. Little ones love stories; that’s a given. Later there is more of a mix. Research by Birmingham Libraries showed that children reached the tipping point around 8-9 years when hobbies and homework drew them closer to non-fiction. Young people urgently need info’- not just study but for their diverse and pressured personal and social lives.

Libraries are where you read newspapers – today’s local, back copies, foreign papers, national dailies, e-papers. Why should people only read one paper? They’re all political; only in a good library can you test one view against another … and in several languages and from different countries.

Free internet drew new audiences; not passive, watching “audiences” but people finding out, fascinated by facts, ideas and opinion; people wanting to disagree. Teachers would be less worried about Wikipedia if we were raised as critical readers – learners – not taught that someone else is always right, so “just cut and paste”.

The library is often cited as a community (village, city centre, whatever) meeting place. Activities in libraries bring alive the knowledge and ideas that are on the pages of the non-fiction book or the internet screen; from health to local history; from childcare to costume. At Birmingham some of our best events were with authors like Robert Winston, Betty Boothroyd, Tony Benn, Kate Adie, Ranulph Fiennes, Melvyn Bragg, Brian Keenan and, of course, Terry Deary ….

Marx and Engels studied and, surely, shared their thinking in the (open to the public) library of Manchester’s Chethams Music School In Birmingham, George Dawson, opening the 1879 Central Library, said the “a great library contains the diary of the human race” (Long live biography!).

The web, online reference works and e-books anticipate reflect the library of today. Now amazing stuff can be had virtually as well as in every walk-in library. As ever, the library seeks and provides. E-resources are too unaffordable for most; a library’s info service is without compare; knowledge collections critical and free computers crucial. There’s nowhere else!

So what do we need now? Four thoughts to begin:

  • More promotion of the information and learning roles of all libraries
  • Accreditation mechanism for learning in libraries
  • Acknowledgement of the librarian’s skills in information research
  • Advocate-leaders in learning, education, health, science, arts, politics, business


John Dolan OBE

10 November 2011

I am here for the learning revolution

I am here for the learning revolution (c) Bill Moseley

The views expressed in guest blog posts are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect those of  Voices for the Library.