Friday, 3 December 2010

Me and my library

This is buzzing around the blogosphere and there are far wiser and more erudite writers explaining why the closure of 250 libraries in the UK is a BAD IDEA. All I can do is give my perspective on this and leave the politicians the opportunity to do the right thing. For once!
As you know, I'm into my history. While most of it does involve swordfighting and gladiators, sometimes it does stray into the big ideas of civilization.
You know what? Libraries define civilization. Not reality tv, not banks, not the bread and circuses.
The great library of Alexandria. It pushed Eygpt to the centre of the world and it's loss is still being felt today, 2000 years later. There were scientists and thinkers operating out of its walls who invented the steam engine. Imagine where we'd be now if the industrial revolution had happened in the first century AD rather than the 18th? That's were science, philosophy and cultures met, learnt from one another and made the world a wiser, more tolerant place. You get rid of libraries, you get rid of wisdom, you might as well just chuck thsoe books on a bon-fire. Like they did in Germany in the 1930s. And we know that turned out well.
"Oh yes, Sarwat, but it's all electronic now. Paper is passe. Wouldn't it be so much easier if people could download it. Problem solved."
Sorry, but that's the arguement of someone who's never been in a library in like the last ten years. Last time I looked our library had classes for pensioners (like teaching them how to use the computer and surf), story-telling groups for toddlers, language classes, author meetings, writing classes, book groups and the opportunity to do something else than spend the day inside your house ALONE. It's a chance for people to get out, meet, exchange ideas, learn something from others. Someone mentioned wanting to create the 'Big Society'. Oh yes, it was the Prime Minister. Well, the first brick in building that society is the library.
I didn't have a lot of books in the house. Not everyone can afford it because books are a luxury item and if you're not so well off you want food on the table first. The library was where I learnt about the world. I read about Ceasar crossing the Rubicon, the battle of Hattin, the witchtrials. I learnt that Afghanistan has been more trouble than it's worth for over two millenia. Even Alexander the Great thought it best just to get on the hell out of there as quickly as possible. Frankly, if one or two politicans had visited their own libraries before commiting to war, a lot of lives would have been saved. It opened the world to me and made me realise how marvellous it all is. We are retreating into parochial mindsets already, shutting down libraries will only speed that process up and all our news and knowledge will become the unfiltered rants of the loud and empty voices.
The library has been the mark of a civilization. Always has, always will be. Those that tear them down will be judged badly by history.


KMLockwood said...

Great post Sarwat. I will be linking, tweeting and generally making a fuss - again.
Thank you.

Jessica said...

As a Librarian (though in the US, not the UK) I can not tell you how much I appreciate this post. Thank you so much for supporting libraries. I linked your post on my own blog to spread the word...

Arya said...

Awesome post! You should send that to your local paper, seriously! Its about the same in the US. They can't afford libraries. Strangely enough, however, they can afford new football stadiums and big checks for the mayor. FAIL.

Juliet Clare Bell said...

Thanks for posting this, Sarwat. Have you signed the Campaign for the Book letter (needs to be done by Sunday night (5th)? Check out the facebook site:!/group.php?gid=43030635058

Let's keep up the pressure and do what we can to keep our libraries open and doing the amazing job that they do.
(Juliet Clare Bell)

kathryn evans said...

With you 100%

Rose said...

That was really an awesome post, Sarwat. I totally agree and I think lots of people do too.

GaryGreen said...

Hello Sarwat.

I'm involved in a national campaign called Voices For The Library, which is defending the role of UK public libraries in the 21st century. In your blog post you highlighted why libraries were important to you when you were growing up and I wondered if you'd be interested in contributing something to our site? Part of our aim is to highlight positive library user stories.

You can find further details at
Thank you - Gary

Anonymous said...

Here, here Sarwat. Love the link to the library in Alexandria. I think the closure of libraries is one of those horrible irreversible things that will alter the character of the country forevermore. For the worse.

SarwatC said...

I've visited the FB page and did join the local libraries thing. Not sure what else I was meant to do.
I'll check out the site and happy to help anyway I can.