Library of Birmingham (photo by me)
So what I had feared is happening. Birmingham, yes, cannot really afford its lovely new library. I was concerned from the beginning (well sort of) that the opening of a fancy, new, and- yes- expensive library would effect the libraries in Birmingham as a whole.
First the hours were cut and staff were let go. Now apparently new fiction is not being bought- there’s just no budget. I fact reportedly some Birmingham libraries have been asking for donations for their shelves.
I love the Library of Birmingham. It is a beautiful building, and of course all the books. However I never really saw a problem with the old one at least it terms of it’s purpose as a library. You couldn’t exactly call it beautiful, but it had books, and places to read them, which is the important thing really. It’s nice to have a library which isn’t a concrete monstrosity, but I’d rather have the old old library back based on the pictures I’ve seen, apparently at the time it was too ‘showy’ though, and the knocked it down when the ugly new library (of the time) was built.
The Library of Birmingham is probably the library I use the most (there are others closer to home, but I travel through town every day. It is certainly a nice library to have as my main library, although the decreased opening hours have meant that it’s often already closed when I am travelling through town on the way home.
That fiction is being cut I think really shows the attitude that libraries and reading are a luxury. Is this true though? Whilst non-fiction may be more intellectually enriching, fiction is, at least generally speaking, more emotionally enriching. Is that the type of society we really want? Where intelligence is rated above compassion or empathy? Plus reading has been shown to have good effects on mental health which is surely a good thing.
Again it is the poor that are getting hit. Those for whom the library is their only, or their main source of books. I am lucky. I can afford to buy more books than I really ‘need’. I have a pile of books waiting to be read which could last me a few months, and enough Waterstone’s points to buy three or four books if I’m really desperate.
However I remember a time when I used the library a lot. I did much of my studying for my GCSEs there, and spent a lot of time there during my holidays. I was a frequent visitor at the school library. If it wasn’t for the library- and yes, especially the fiction section I wouldn’t be the reader I am today.
Reading isn’t a luxury. Reading is a way of life, and in a world where there are so many other things to distract potential readers shouldn’t we be putting more into our libraries, not taking away from them. Books create a person, books are a lot of what I am, not just a reader, but my personality too. I hate to think of a world where this access to self is lost.