Article excerpt

Byline: By RHODRI CLARK Western Mail

Amazing. It's 2006, and after 27 years of Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair you can still walk into your local library and borrow a book, or several books, for nothing. Libraries haven't been sold off and turned into competing venues to deliver reader choice - a choice between a limited range of bestsellers in one library and the same titles in another. They haven't been subjected to corporate sponsorship either, so you don't see a logo on the cover of each book to remind you that you're indebted to a certain company for the pleasure you derive from reading the book. Libraries remain surprisingly comprehensive, geographically. Villages still have libraries. Rural hamlets, and farmsteads in some areas, are visited by mobile libraries. Somehow libraries haven't been centralised into large, well-equipped regional centres to cut the costs of provision while imposing new travel costs on users who live in outlying areas. Libraries are important to communities as information centres. They stock reference books, periodicals and leaflets. Even the posters on the wall about activities such as yoga classes are useful information. Libraries also have computers with internet access. These are used by children to do homework, and by other local residents who aren't online at home or simply want the peace and quiet, a famous attribute of libraries, to concentrate on their research or emails. The educational importance of free book loans is immeasurable. The

children's section starts from board books for babies and runs through to Harry Potter novels and chemistry textbooks. Even a village library should have a big enough range to keep a voracious young reader occupied. Education continues beyond childhood, and libraries encourage readers of all ages to experiment and broaden their literary horizons. If you find you don't like a book, you simply return it to the library and pick another one. …