Libraries – A Cut Too Far (Why McTernan’s got it wrong)

Liberal whingers are wrong – we should shut our libraries

This blog is a response to one by John McTernan, political blogger I came across through Bellacaledonia.

‘When did you last go to a public library?’ Asks John McTernan. Last week, if you really must know, despite having a house stuffed full of books.

Sixty percent of people don’t visit libraries so 40% still do; a pretty high percentage of use. I’ll take his word for the figure although I don’t know if this an English or UK figure. He doesn’t make this clear.

So, in McTernan’s view, viability comes down to involvement/use. We might apply the same criteria to other publicly funded bodies/institutions.
•     When were you last in the army? Me? Never felt the need. Scrap it.
•     What about Trident. When was it last used? Definitely has to go. I mean that.
•     All those miles and miles of pavement in our villages, towns and cities. When did  you last walk on any of them? Dig them up, tar them over as roads and save on maintenance costs.

The Internet is great. I use it all the time. But there is a wealth of material not available on the internet. One day perhaps most local archives will be uploaded online but that time is nowhere near. Libraries conserve and preserve documents and their staff have the expertise and knowledge relating to these material. On the internet you are on your own and understanding easily lost to assumption.

To equate libraries only with books if wide off the mark but if McTernan is suggesting that those who want books can buy them, where does that leave choice? And choice is close to the man’s heart. A library where browsing leads to the expansion of our reading is a huge plus for preserving them.

It’s true that libraries are used less but 40% is a large portion of the population who recognise their importance. BUT, the reason the closure of libraries has come up is because of the financial crisis and cuts NOT because of a drop in usage.

Any move in this direction is dangerous. This is bringing the acquisition of knowledge down to market forces and people with less disposable income, and the percentage falling into this group will continue to rise, will not choose or be in a position to buy any/many items to the extent they currently have access to in libraries. In a world where knowledge is power then the ability or inability to purchase knowledge will increasingly have an impact on peoples’ lives, with the privileged controlling knowledge.

‘The final defence of the public library is that it is a place for the pupil who has nowhere else to study and revise. Once again, this is the 21st century. Virtually every kid has a desk at home – even if it often has a games console on it. And libraries at secondary schools are, in my experience, uniformly good and open places for young people’ says McTernan.

McTernan has spent too long rubbing shoulders with well-healed media types in London wine bars. Such crass statements as ‘Virtually every kid has a desk at home’. Not in my experience of teaching in deprived communities. A desk? Really? Kids I taught didn’t even have a room of their own. Studying, doing homework had to be done in the noise and to-ing and fro-ing of a kitchen or sittingroom. No peace. No incentive. Nowhere to concentrate. I’d encourage them to use libraries. McTernan thinks it’s fine to take away this ‘choice’ which is funny because he’s quite keen on choice in other situations such as health services. And just what is McTernan’s experience of school libraries? Many are excellent but they have a different function from public libraries. A little bit of knowledge…

He concludes, ‘Few institutions are timeless’. Not sure that any institution is timeless. Of course the needs of people change and society adapts to those changes. It may be that libraries will outgrow their usefulness but they are still relevant today, very relevant to the needs of people who currently do or who in future may choose to avail themselves of their facilities.


5 Comments to “Libraries – A Cut Too Far (Why McTernan’s got it wrong)”

  1. Thanks to those of you who’ve commented.

    The importance of libraries to the dispersal of knowledge is undoubted. It is astonishing and disappointing that someone associated with the Labour Party should promote the eradication of them given the potential for personal improvement they provide to everyone within their communities. Libraries are truly democratic.McTernan’s snide aside at the middle classes who recognise the value of freely available education for life though libraries is very telling. While middle class people can afford to live without libraries, very many within the classes of the poor working class and unemployed cannot. You would think a Labour man, albeit New Labour, might understand this and care. Obviously not.

  2. Public libraries make information available to the public for free at point of use. They are not only amazing storehouses of knowledge but places where folk can go and just sit and read whatever they find there. In this era of fuel poverty our libraries are even more important than ever. I’ve always loved the fact that I can visit the library looking for one book and end up finding stuff I’d never heard off and discovering that its great. For local history, you’ll usually find a vast range of out-of-print material that you cant get in the shops, available to all for free. Librarians are usually extremely helpful if you are looking for something and don’t know exactly what it is. The oft touted notion of libraries being run by private companies or being in kiosks in supermarkets raises the notion of censorship …. would you be able to go and borrow a copy of “Tescopoly” from your local branch of a certain mega-super-store? Part of the anti-library movement revolves around the desire to sell off the buildings that house these storehouses of knowledge. I have always used libraries and always will – every trip to the library is the start of an adventure. Libraries give us power – long may they continue to do so.

  3. @rxpell great post Lena – I’ll be leaving a comment when I get to a computer 🙂

  4. @susanrmyers Susan’s Speculations is out! ▸ Top stories today via @lenathehyena

  5. @Lpmch Highly recommend this riposte to McTernan’s library closures- back articles kept me entertained too. @lenathehyena

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