The seemingly harmless library is currently under worldwide threat it seems, but why is that? How can a place where children come to dream, where the elderly keep up with the world or learn new skills, where Mums & Dads find solace and help in the terrifying task of raising a new generation in a world where learning how to be a parent is never mentioned until your own babies arrive, where so many helpful and community building activities take place.
Tonight, I came across an article in The Guardian on a speech by Neil Gaiman on the importance of libraries, and coincidentally a few days ago my home city finally came clean with the details of their restructuring of our local library system. They are going to sack 74 library staff to make Auckland’s libraries “Fit for the Future.” Or ‘accept voluntary redundancy from 74 staff’ to use their euphemism. This in a city where, no matter the time of day, our libraries are busy with people doing things. Borrowing books, not as many as years ago, yes, but also with children exploring the books on display, attending rhythm and rhyme sessions, being read to by librarians, using the publicly available internet access and computers (priceless if your parents can barely afford a roof over their head, let alone access to modern technology), with retired citizens learning how to use iPads and tablets – my own mother’s loneliness has been banished by her iPad letting her keep in contact with our scattered family. Libraries are one of the last community hubs left in our rapidly growing city. So excuse me if I dread what kind of a future they think they are making our libraries fit for.
Worldwide, the United Kingdom struck out at libraries when they wanted to cut public spending, and the latest news from the US is that Federal funding of libraries may be slashed as part of the new administration’s draconian budgetary attack on the humanities and other such unnecessary drags on the economy – having a high-wealth producing economy apparently being the sole function of any governing body.
So why are these governments, these elected bodies tasked with the well being and governance of their societies, so hell bent on destroying one of the most successful perpetrators of intellectual freedom and of spreading knowledge to all strata of society. After all, libraries – the home of books, of recording music, of magazines and computers, of fiction and non-fiction, – are the home of the mighty WHAT IF.
That’s it. WHAT IF. The two most dangerous words in any language. What if we think differently. What if we don’t accept blindly what we are told. What if we had a world wide system that links all computers and lets people find information from anywhere they choose (the internet) available to everyone? What if, instead of the world being flat, it’s actually round?
Read Neil Gaiman, go to your local library, then ask: is this a treasure we can afford to lose.