Writing Public Libraries News, I come across lots of good, and not so good quotes from people. Recently, I was going to call one blog posting “free market choice” after an unfortunate comment from a Bexley councillor but another quote, that called libraries “weapon of mass instruction“, so beautifully summed up what a library is that it won the game hands down.
The whole point about public libraries, of course, is that they offer the complete opposite of the free market by doing such a wonderful job of “mass instruction”.
When I do junior school class visits – and I do a lot – there is a little bit of fun that sums this up. I get two children to come up. One play-acts taking a book from Asda (my town has no bookshops) without paying for it. As they almost leave, I shout “beep beep beep” and “stop thief!” to general hilarity. The other play-acts taking a book from the public library without paying for it. I shout “thank you” and “come back again”. This is the difference. One does not pay to take out a book. One can take out twenty books retailing at perhaps £8 per book for free, as many times as one likes. The High Street or Amazon alternative is simply not an option for many of the people I deal with. £160 every three weeks on books? I think not.
Libraries are not a “free market choice”. There’d be no free access to books if it was left to the free market. In a pure market driven economy, one would not be able to read a book without having the means to pay for it. Believe me, there’s a lot of families who would never buy a book. A lot of children denied the greatest chance of all life chances: that of a love of books, of a love for literacy and all the advantages that that gives. Ladies, Gentleman and Councillors from Bexley, it’s the public library or nothing for a lot of the kids when it comes to reading. The free market would just leave them with nothing.