Sunday, 6 February 2011
Turning the tide - bring out your books!
The Public Library system is being dealt a near-fatal blow with various local and county councils cutting budgets. For 160+ years, Public Libraries in the UK have fed the minds and entertained the populace, but they now seem to be in a sad decline.
Looking back all those years ago, it is laudable that philanthropists started the ball rolling, providing access for all to reading material, whether for education or recreation. But since then our world has changed and there are more attractions (distractions?) competing for our precious attention.
Also, the success of bulk purchasing and undercutting sale prices has seen many independent booksellers go to the wall, leaving just a couple of national chains. Even these are now in danger, threatened by the online providers and their digital stores providing books that have never been so cheap.
So, the two-fold original inspiration for public libraries (books for all regardless of income; and the education and entertainment of the masses) now seems almost defunct.
While we strive to retain library services are we actually fighting an already-lost cause?
I've said elsewhere (FB/Twitter) - we need a resurgence in the thrill of reading! This, I believe, will bring about a change in people's attitudes towards the published word.
Booksellers may still have to battle their digital counterparts - that's down to fiscal matters but at the end of the day do you want to buy your reading material from robots, or have a 'real' conversation with book-world professionals? (do you want the price to be the bottom line or are you prepared to pay a little extra for 'service'?)
The knock-on effect of the current financial climate may be just the band-wagon that libraries need to be jumping on - when the pennies are getting few and far between for all of us then public libraries should be screaming from the rooftops - "FREE BOOKS HERE!!!"
But, sadly, Joe Public seems to be averse to reading - the written word now has to battle against all manner of digital/entertainment opponents.
So - how do we turn the tide?
By example -
* parents reading with their children - not just the book at bedtime;
* schools teaching the LOVE of reading, not just the mechanics (damn the 'Literacy Hour' - it stifled reading for pleasure!);
* good role models - how about book publishers using 'stars' to advertise their wares? Imagine Johnny Depp or Kate Winslet (or the fantasy figure of your choice) caught with their nose in a book? The possibilities are endless and the liklihood is it would snowball as it became 'cool' to 'RIP' - read in public!
But until then, I suppose we can all do our bit - get those books out on your lunchbreaks, on your morning commute, in the dentist's waiting room....wherever.....
I have this vision of 'flash-mob read-ins' taking over shopping centres....
....we could do this, couldn't we?
Are you game? Let's 'RIP'!