Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVE ANDERSON

THE folk singer Joni Mitchell put it well - "don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you're got till it's gone."

I am thinking here of the precious resource of our public libraries, which have suffered through a 40% cut in local government funding over this Parliament. Over 300 libraries have been closed in the past five years and another 400 are now run by volunteers while 6,000 jobs have been axed. One third of libraries have reduced opening hours and a further third have introduced charges for previously free services, especially internet use.

One factor is lower demand thanks to the internet revolution. It used to be that those of us who couldn't afford encyclopaedias would visit the library reference room. Nowadays many just fire up their tablets for results in seconds.

But we should not exaggerate the impact of the internet. Public libraries are still highly respected and used.

Recent figures show that 306 million visits are made each year to libraries, and that 70% of 5-15 year-olds have used a library in the past year. Over two thirds of people say that libraries are essential or very important to their community.

An independent report suggests that libraries catch up with modern times by installing wi-fi - one third of all libraries lack this now basic service - as well as coffee facilities and sofas. The report could, however, simply gather dust on the book shelf unless the government commits to funding our libraries and creating a connected network that would then boost their use.

In these circumstances, it is necessary to restate why we need libraries. They can be quiet places for studying. Not every child or indeed adult has the space at home for a desk or can afford a computer. One in five families lack internet access at home. Many cannot afford to buy all the books they need for either leisure or for their studies. Unemployed people can also use libraries to find job information.

Many older people don't have or find it easy to use personal computers and yet find that more and more services require them to pay or engage online. …

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