My heart sank when I received a recent email from Devon County Council which read: “We want your views on a series of proposed changes to the way the library service operates in Devon…We have to make £1.5million savings between 2014/15 and 2016/17 … please take the time to consider the proposals and complete our questionnaire at www.toughchoices.co.uk”
Nothing in the above sentences sounded remotely reassuring to someone who spent a good deal of her childhood in the public library. The memories all came flooding back – the splendiferous Victorian building, the smell of musty books, the hushed quiet, the row upon row of adventure and learning and fun, the librarian flicking through the card tickets for your book returns and the sound of her stamp in your new acquisitions as you left; curling up on the bedroom floor as you disappeared into your own private world until someone insisted you ‘put that book down and come down for your tea’.
There is a fear amongst many mature readers that e-books will hasten the demise of print books so I was heartened to read about a survey last year which found that 62% of 16 to 24 year olds preferred print books over e-books. The two main reasons for preferring print appeared to be value for money and an emotional connection to physical books. Another top rated reason for preferring print was: “I like to hold the product” (51%) and qualitative comments included “I like the smell” and “I want full bookshelves”!
A more recent study, commissioned by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, looked at the activities that made us happiest. Top of the list was dancing, swimming and going to the library. Apparently, the uplift library visits give people is equivalent to a £1,359 pay rise. This is presumably the reason why Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, announced last month that prisoners could no longer receive books as gifts, a decision described by Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform as part of an “irrational punishment regime”. She went on to say that: “… punishing reading is as nasty as it is bizarre.”
With so many public libraries closing due to lack of funds I decided to take up Devon Libraries invitation to a drop-in session at Honiton Library. The Tough Choices website proposes that Honiton should become a Devon Centre model which is described as: “…a modern, high-quality library (that) offers a range of other community based services such as adult learning, services for adults with learning disabilities, work hubs, services from the community and voluntary sector, the police, district councils and health.” By sharing Library space and staff this proposal could help towards reducing running costs and provide a wider range of complementary services for the local community.
Mums and toddlers were finishing their Bounce and Rhyme session as I sat with the ladies from Devon Libraries and pondered the difficult decisions that confronted them. Devon County Council have always been very supportive of the library service so the runes are looking good but as with everything in life if you don’t use it, you lose it and over a five year period ‘active borrowers’ are down by -22.20% and ‘issues’ by -19.81%.
Devon Libraries are consulting on the proposals until 10th July 2014. There is an information pack available at Honiton Library and an online questionnaire at www.toughchoices.co.uk. Unlike many government inspired consultation questionnaires this Devon Libraries website is very user friendly and easy to follow so I hope many of you will take the time to add your thoughts. It would be a sad day indeed if memories like the following were lost for ever.
“I had the best start in life – loving parents, a supportive family and the most amazing gift: Boglestone Library….
The pattern was the same each week: I would choose up to 3 books for myself, usually items with pictures and texts, and my Dad would pick a couple of books for us to read together, harder ones in which he would do the voices of the main characters.
We would walk down the hill together with an almost palpable excitement about the book we were about to read. In winter especially, we’d get home, draw the curtains, put the lamp on and I would sit in my Dad’s arms and listen to the story, pointing out the words I knew as I went. Our favourite was Roald Dahl, and my Dad could create the atmosphere of Hazell’s Wood or Mr. Fox’s escapades just by the tone of his voice. It was magical, but it wouldn’t have been possible without those borrowed books.”
(Ange Fitzpatrick’s early memories of visits to the public library with her Dad)
For more information on public libraries go to:
for information on the Summer Reading Challenge