Protesting The Closure Of Libraries

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PROTESTING THE CLOSURE OF LIBRARIES

WORDS BY DIVYA SEHGAL

Divya Sehgal makes the case for why the closure of libraries in the UK is a terrible mistake.

“We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries.”

- Neil Gaiman

I recently received a disappointing – and, if I were to dwell on it too much, depressing – email from Surrey Libraries. In it was a small, almost blink and you’d miss it section on “change to library opening hours”. The email stated that the Surrey Libraries will have shorter opening hours because there has been “increased demand for essential services”. The implication is, of course, obvious: a library is not an essential service. And yet there are very few things that are as essential as a library.

Unfortunately, there’s a real threat to libraries today. There are now 500 less council run libraries in the UK since 2010. With another 100 more proposed for closure over the next year. The closure of libraries negatively impacts us all, but perhaps the biggest consequence of this is the disservice to children.

It’s my love for libraries and the worlds they have unlocked for me, my eagerness to prove to whomever I can that libraries are important for the onward movement of our society and culture.

There is no denying the positive impact of a library on a child’s development. A year after my family moved to Bangalore, my father got me a library membership at the hallowed Eloor library. I was 11. The dusty books were like old friends I never knew I had, hidden behind other old pals, waiting to befriend me. I’d carry them home, sometimes shocking my parents when they saw me delicately trying to balance five books in my arms, and devour them in the three week lending time I had, eager not to renew. As I grew older and moved on to the “adult” sections of the libraries, that changed. I borrowed not five, but three, then two, and sometimes just one. These days, I’m back to reserving as many books as I can, aware that sometimes I’m in a “queue”, and it could take up to six months for my turn to come around.

I haven’t borrowed a book from Eloor for many years, but my membership remains, dormant but existent. Since then, one of the first things I do whenever I move into a new area is to get a membership at the local library. I did it when I first came to UK as a student in Cardiff. I did it when I moved to Epsom in Surrey. More than half of the books I’ve read this year have been reserved and borrowed from Redbridge Libraries.

I can safely say that if it weren’t for libraries, I wouldn’t have been as passionate a reader as I am today. But it’s neither the fact that libraries in the UK are completely free that makes me go back to them, nor that I can renew my borrowed books 10 times (three weeks x 10, you do the maths). It’s my love for libraries and the worlds they have unlocked for me, my eagerness to prove to whomever I can that libraries are important for the onward movement of our society and cultur. That in a world going backwards – and we only have to look at our Twitter feeds on #Brexit and #Trump to know – libraries are the key to the future.

Like Gaiman, I plead, support your local library. Even if it means just getting a library membership and borrowing one book a year.

Each London borough has its own council libraries. Find out more here.