Monday, March 8, 2010
Several years ago, as a single parent with a young child, I became ill. I couldn't work. I used up all my sick leave. I stopped getting the pay cheques I'd taken for granted for many years.
Because Australia has a generous social welfare system, we had food on the table and a roof overhead. But there was no money for luxuries. No money for books.
NO MONEY FOR BOOKS. Even today, I get a shiver just typing those words. Like many who love to read, I was used to buying books whenever I wanted. I especially enjoyed buying great books for my son.
Luckily, we lived close enough to a public library that we could afford the transport cost. It became a treat in what was a very difficult time. We would browse and share and read. We borrowed the maximum books, magazines, audio and video, then lugged our loot home. For the next week, we had our entertainment and learning needs all mapped out.
I do a lot of swallowing and blinking when I think back on those dark days, so I mostly prefer not to talk about them. I dragged the memories into the light of day here though, because I feel compelled to explain again why libraries are so important, to me and to many others.
What is paramount is that libraries are accessible. No matter how well-off you are, you can go into your local library and have instant access to a range of material. Like I did, you can borrow books, books that offer escape from insoluble problems, books that entertain or inform, books that become friends when you need them most. When you're a mother with no money, libraries mean you can give your child gifts (for a week or so) that don't cost anything, but bring delighted smiles just the same. For some of us, those whose lives are restricted in some way, library staff offer the only friendly smiles and chat we see all week. Haven indeed.
Still, I guess it would be cheaper to run libraries without books. And the patrons would disappear, so you could cut down on staff. No books to replace. No new books to buy. Easier to clean for sure - no more dusting and re-organizing. Why, you could tile the rooms and just hose them out! It would no doubt make the bureaucrats rub their hands and smile.
But then what happens to mums like me, who need books for themselves and their kids? What would happen to Mr Perkins, who pushes his walker to the library every day to read the papers and chat to the staff? How about Ellie, who is teaching herself principles of design through reference books? And Tran, who does his homework at the library because it's so noisy at home? And Dotty, who can't afford to buy the large print books but loves to borrow them? Multiply by the thousands, no millions of people who need library access, and who need a library with books, not just computers.
What about them, Mr Bureaucrat? Bookless libraries? Bah!
(This post is a follow-up to the views I expressed last month in Libraries Need Books AND Computers. On March 8 in the USA, we begin the Share a Story-Shape a Future Blog Tour. Find out more at The Book Chook.)