Following the publication of the article, several “library” people had interviews with media around the country including Nick Poole, Phil Bradley, Alan Gibbons, and Philip Pullman amongst others. And people tweeted links, comments, responses; I would like to say that all of them showed “library love” but sadly, many didn’t and some of the misconceptions, half-truths and even lies that were spouted amazed me. What was even more astounding was that when these people were given correct information, data that was accurate and could be verified, they still continued to believe their own message. Or perhaps they decided to ignore the fact they were wrong in the first place as the truth didn’t suit their cause. I think many of the comments were made to gain attention and get media coverage but, unfortunately, such negative messages don’t do libraries any good; too often it’s the first message that seen and believed – not the follow-up responses.
· People don’t use libraries anymore – there were actually 224.6 million visits to public libraries in England in 2015, that’s more than visits to Premier League football matches, the cinema and the top ten tourist attractions combined.
· Everything is on the internet – which it isn’t. Even assuming what you want is online, you have to have internet access in the first place and know how to find it. It was also pointed out that, as libraries have the internet together with resources you can’t find online, then libraries actually have more than is on the internet. I don’t think people tweeting quite grasped this concept though.
· You can buy books online for a few pennies – that may well be true but you still have to pay postage which brings them up to a few pounds. Besides, people don’t want to own every book they read – I certainly don’t, apart from anything else I’d never have room for them all. This also supposes that the book you want is available to buy for pennies. So this attitude is basically saying that any book will do, that you have to take what you can find rather than choosing what to read.
· Library visits are declining – well, I guess if you close libraries, reduce opening hours and decimate the book stock then you may well find less people visit. This really is a catch-22 situation as people can’t visit libraries if they no longer exist and yet the fall in visits is being used as an excuse to close even more libraries. Mind you, even with a decline 224.6 visits is still quite a lot.
· I don’t use them so why should I pay for them out of my taxes, if the demand is there then let people voluntarily donate to keep libraries open – I found this attitude the most shocking and wasn’t quite sure how to respond politely, and it’s not often I’m lost for words J. I did point out that I’m a tax payer myself and wanted my taxes spent on libraries. I also suggested that there were likely to be services that the tweeter used which I didn’t yet was funding them via my taxes. A good example of this is the local skatepark – as I’ve never been on a skateboard in my life I could argue that the numerous youths who use it could voluntarily pay for it. There will be times in all of our lives when we use different local services and the fact that we personally have no need of them now doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be provided for others.
· People don’t read books anymore – this isn’t quite true either, 9.8 million people borrowed books from libraries last year. But then libraries aren’t just about books as those of us who use them know, they are social and safe places where you can learn, study, relax, escape; for many they are a lifeline. Also this generic use of “people” is rather discriminating … babies and children do read books, they NEED books in order to learn how to read and to discover the pleasure of reading. The 787,547 children who participated in the 2015 Summer Reading Challenge demonstrated this.
· Libraries don’t make any money – libraries aren’t meant to be income-generators although sadly we seem to be heading towards a society whereby, if something doesn’t make money, then it’s considered worthless and useless. Emptying our rubbish bins and repairing potholes doesn’t make money either but nobody suggests that the council stops providing these services. However, Enterprising Libraries added value of £38M to the UK economy in 2013 – 2015 and £27.5M of savings was made to the NHS through public library services so libraries do bring financial benefits to other areas. Plus I wonder how much value having a literate workforce is worth?
What was clear from all this is that we still have a long way to go to inform the public of the value and benefits of libraries. Those of us who work in them see the effect they have on a daily basis but many of those who have no reason to visit their local library are completely oblivious to how important they are. As Ian Anstice said in his Public Library News we “need to shout loud, very loud, about what is going on, or we will be drowned out by those who want libraries gone”. Let’s make sure we keep tweeting #libraries and sending out positive messages.