Eight Writers, One Mission...The Return Of The Great British Thriller
Thursday, 22 September 2011
Libraries in the 21st Century
Posted by Leigh Russell
I was pleased to be invited to talk about my books at the relaunch of Bushey library. Before speaking about my own books, I decided to say a few words about how fantastic it is to see a refurbished library in the current climate.
With over 430 libraries closed or under threat, the professional body of librarians CILIP are forecasting another 600 more will soon be under scrutiny. That’s around 20% of our libraries threatened with closure.
Under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964 local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide a library service. But the government are changing the rules, claiming attendance has been dropping since 2005, although children’s visits have remained steady.
Libraries, on the other hand, report increased use since the start of the recession. In the past year around 50% of adults in England visited libraries. They go there for free books, information, learning resources, work and ICT. New communities seek help with English, material in their first language, and help with citizenship procedures.
But whatever the true picture, there is no question that funding is a problem, provoking a lot of debate about what can be done. Reducing opening hours would only make visiting more difficult; reducing stocks would have an adverse effect on users’ satisfaction; and replacing staff with volunteers would, in my opinion, be disastrous. Part of the value of libraries is the expertise of the trained librarians. Introducing any of these measures would inevitably hasten the demise of any library, in my opinion. You can’t rescue a good service by making it mediocre or worse.
The question should not be solely about money. As US Publisher’s Weekly says: ‘‘The value of libraries should not be measured in economic terms alone’’, although of course economic considerations can’t be disregarded. We have to decide what we want from libraries in the 21st century, with our 24/7 culture, cheap books, ebooks, and almost limitless information accessible to all without having to stir from our homes.
What kind of society do we want?
Borders closed, the whole Waterstones chain has recently been bought for price of one footballer, and the past 15 years have seen an increase of over 1,000% in lap dancing clubs in London alongside a 6% decline in libraries in the capital.
As book lovers, we should all care about libraries, even if we don’t use them ourselves. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to speak up in support of our struggling library service, because without pressure from the reading public, libraries as we know them may not survive for much longer. To paraphrase Burke: “All that is necessary for the disappearance of libraries is for readers to do nothing.”
Leigh Russell writes the Geraldine Steel crime novels:
The Curzon Group is dedicated to taking the ideas, imagination and energy of thriller writers ranging from John Buchan to Eric Ambler, Hammond Innes to Ian Fleming, and Alistair MacLean to Len Deighton, and reviving them for the 21st Century.
“The tradition of thriller writing should never be allowed to die,” said Jeffrey Archer, when he advised us on the launch of this group. “Not least because we are better at it than anyone else in the world.”
The Curzon Group is a band of eight thriller writers who get together to have lunch, swap ideas, and come up with wheezes for promoting our books. Matt Lynn, Richard Jay Parker and Leigh Russell can all be found blogging here.
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