We measure civilisations by what survives of them.
After the Holocaust, after genocide, the acts of destruction and barbarism remembered most clearly, despised most deeply are book burnings. In our collective memory they are inextricably linked with intolerance, persecution and massacre.
At the age of fourteen, I moved back to England after having lived in Germany for eleven years and was placed in all the bottom sets at my new school because I spoke strangely, because I exhibited none of the arts of social interaction my school mates had acquired. But I wanted to be educated. I had read Homer and Swift in German – why couldn’t I be allowed to use that knowledge now?
I was desperate to learn French, to be the best in French. So, every day, after school, I went to Doncaster Central Library, took the previous day’s copy of Le Monde from its shelf, sat down at a large, rectangular, melamine-topped table and read. On Day One, I understood less than a third of what I read; by the end of the year, I understood most of it (and fell in love into the bargain, with a girl whose name I never found out, who visited the library every day, too). I went on to study German, French and Linguistics at the University of Cambridge, and to spend time in one of the greatest libraries in the world, the University Library.
When, in 2006, we moved from Norway into this tiny village of Stradbroke in Suffolk, we were immensely grateful for the service provided by the library here, to help our children (and us) to become reacquainted with the English language. We are heavy users of our library, one of many libraries threatened with closure by Suffolk County Council. Much of the research for Dead Men, my debut novel to be published in 2012, would have been impossible without the support of the professionals running Stradbroke Library,
We all have the right to educate ourselves. The government has a statutory obligation to allow us to educate ourselves through the provision of a public libraries service. To devise a strategy which forces local councils to close library services is an abdication of responsibility and common sense, and a malicious attack on our rights as individuals, fuelled, to no small extent I surmise, by high-Tory squirism and the desire to suppress the development and free speech of individuals critical of the status quo.
I support the Voices for the Library campaign, because public libraries, especially rural ones, are the only way for many people to access knowledge, to access the Internet to inform themselves, to apply for jobs, to be a part of the world outside; the only way for older people to get hold of affordable, large print books, and to continue to be enveloped by human warmth and friendships they may not find at home, and, in turn, to keep their minds and bodies active for longer without having to find refuge in the (also underfunded) NHS. They are prime services of civilisation in an increasingly barbaric age.
Richard Pierce was born in Doncaster in 1960, and lived in Germany for 11 years to 1974. Educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, he is administrator and trustee for three grant-making charities. His debut novel Dead Men will be published by a major UK publisher in 2012. He is married, has four children, a cat, a Triumph Spitfire, a collection of epees, and thousands of books he’s still trying to find space for (in addition to all the books he borrows from Stradbroke Library). His web site is www.tettig.com, and can be found on twitter as @tettig.