For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work before purchasing it on the Kindle store; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.
Libraries Give Us Power: Like in the Manic Street Preachers’ song, like the quote which the song is based on, libraries give us power.
This was true in the time before the internet, and it is still true now, in this world of computers and Facebook and tweets. Not everybody can afford to go on the internet. I do not have the internet at home, and I am only able to update this blog due to a (very good) friend of mine. My mother is not on the internet, and does not have any plans to change that. The internet is not yet ubiquitous.
But anybody can go into a library. They are democratic in that way. You do not have to spend a small fortune in hiring out a telephone line each month. You don’t have to worry about the internet going down, or some problem with your computer. The books don’t need a computer in order to read them. It is easy to get a library ticket.
There is also the fact that not all information is actually on the internet, despite what some people might think; nor is that information always reliable. There is no provenance; and an author sometimes needs to know that the information is reliable, and has not simply been invented.
Once, for my gas-lamp fantasy role-playing game, I was doing a short supplement on Tibet, and I needed to research the lung-gom-pa runners. Those are the legendary tireless individuals who can seemingly run for days upon end, covering hundreds of miles. I needed to research the legends concerning them, so that the statistics in my game matched the legends. I had already encountered stories about these people in books on Tibet from the local library. But, when I researched them on the internet, I could find next to nothing about them. There were only a handful of sites, with less information than I could get from the local library. That is just one example of why we need libraries. I could give more examples, on anything from vampires to Victorian history.
But despite there still being a real need for libraries local authorities are still closing them down, and central government does not seem to care. We have lost hundreds of libraries in our country in the past few years, and most of those will never reopen. It, in my opinion, is an act of cultural vandalism, and one which affects the poor – who can’t afford computers – far more than the wealthy people in our society. It is taking knowledge away from people.
We have had some libraries have computers installed, or others serving coffee, in an attempt to lure people in. But for each area with computers you are going to have so many fewer books on display. You cannot read a cup of coffee. Some libraries – those which are left – have lost a third of their space. With each important book not on display a library becomes a little less useful.
My local library is still alive, thankfully. But it has become a shadow of its former self. Yes, it has a section filled with computers. I have never sat down to use any of those computers. When I go to my local library I have always gone there for the books. If I want a coffee then I will go to the local coffee place (never Starbucks). If I need the internet then I will go around a friend’s house.
The shelves in my library are not as tall as they used to be, either. When I first began using the library, in its current home, the shelves were all over six feet tall. I could not see over the top of them. It was wonderful, going between those shelves, through the corridors of knowledge. I could find books on all manner of obscure subjects. At no visit to the library did I feel disappointed.
That is not the case now, though. The shelves at the library only come up to my chest, and I am only a man of average height. Before, too, the shelves were arranged in as most an ergonomic manner as possible, leaving corridors between them. But the layout now is all about using up space, rather than preserving it. At a conservative estimate I think that the library, in terms of what is on display, has lost around a third of its books. I suspect that may be the case with other surviving libraries.
I have heard politicians say that libraries could be kept open by amateurs, working for nothing at all. If I was a librarian I would be very angry about such a suggestion, for it intimates that being a librarian is not a proper job, and that anybody could do it. That is not the case. We need highly trained librarians, running proper libraries, with plenty of books on display. Anything else is trying to do it on the cheap, and ends up being counter-productive.
We wouldn’t go to have our teeth checked by volunteer dentists, nor have operations in hospitals run by amateurs. We should have libraries also run by professionals. Knowledge is important. We should treat it as such.
But I fear that there will end up being vast tracts of Britain without their being any libraries. This will be a wasteland, a cultural desert. And most politicians in Britain do not seem to care. They don’t even know just how many libraries we have lost. Ask them and they will give figures much lower than the truth.
Libraries are also important to the financial survival of authors. You might not know this, but each time a book is withdrawn from a library a very small amount of money is paid to an author. I think that the amount is very small. It used to be around two pence, but I’m not sure how much it is now – and the total which an author can receive is capped. But, as the vast majority of authors get an income of only a few thousand pounds a year, even a few hundred pounds extra can be important. It can be the difference between financial survival and going under.
It is only since Victorian times, in Britain, that we have had free libraries, open to all members of the public. In the past libraries used to be private, and people had to pay to use them. The desire was to keep knowledge in the hands of the wealthy.
We began to get free, public libraries in the 1850s and 1860s, and later. Some individuals used bequests to start up libraries in their area. Examples included William Salt, who left money in his last will and testament to set up the William Salt library in Stafford.
Of course we have had libraries in Britain a lot longer than the times of Queen Victoria. The British Museum Library was founded in 1753, using the book collections of Edward and Robert Harley; Sir Hans Sloane; and Sir Robert Cotton.
The Bodleian Library is even older than that. It can be traced back to the fourteenth century, with a library in Oxford being established by Thomas de Cobham. Really, though, the collection which it now contains was started in 1602 by Sir Thomas Bodley. It is one of the most important libraries in the country. It has a great number of books, scrolls and manuscripts, including a Gutenberg Bible and Shakespeare’s first folio.
I could wax lyrical on the history of libraries for several more pages, and bore you all solid, as I had to research a lot of these libraries for some of my gas-lamp fantasy role-playing game supplements. But the point which I have been trying to make is that there was a need for the creation of all these libraries, and that the need persists. So please support your local libraries, and oppose the semi-literate philistines who are trying to close them down.