It’s a shame some libraries are closing, but this is not the end of civilisation. Quite the oppositeby Leo Benedictus / March 23, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
Austerity shows up a nation’s soft spots like lemon juice on cuts. The British, it turns out, are a people who will accept the sale of their water, but not their forests. Radio 6 Music, we have now discovered, is one of their most cherished institutions. And libraries? Well, perhaps some very strong resistance there was always on the cards. For many years, these places have been a progressive totem, a route to betterment for the motivated poor and, more importantly, their children. Among all the public services, libraries occupy a unique position: their clients are neither forced to use them, as they are hospitals and schools, nor capable of overusing them, as the indignant right so loves to claim of benefits. Libraries, in short, are almost unbegrudgeable.
Which makes the councils proposing to shut more than 450 across the country look like vandals. In response, successful authors such as Julia Donaldson have come forward to describe their own debt to libraries. Alan Bennett called it “child abuse” to close them. In a frothy attack that became a viral battle cry, Philip Pullman even compared the idea to “the fanatical Bishop Theophilus in the year 391 laying waste to the Library of Alexandria.”