Yet again, I’m stunned by the crass ignorance of our leaders.
Moves are afoot to ban prisoners from receiving books from outside the prison – meaning that prisoners who are attempting to rehabilitate themselves through education will no longer be able to do so. Prisons are currently required by law to have libraries but the provision varies wildly in quality. Reading – both for courses and qualifications but also for leisure – is the best way to expand the mind and to give people the opportunity to reflect on their lives and to envision alternatives. Every librarian will tell you that reading changes lives, and never is this more true than in a prison. Denying prisoners this right is denying them the chance to change, and benefits no one, least of all society at large. I’ve met plenty of people who proudly state that discovering books and libraries literally saved their lives, pushing them onto a different path – including ex-offenders who I’ve mentored through work experience in the library with the Leicestershire Cares charity. Authors have spoken out this week against the proposals and there is a petition to sign at change.org – plus a great article by former prisoners in The Independent.
But who cares about prisoners?
Of course this is all part of the Government’s wider agenda to disenfranchise the most vulnerable members of our society.
Never has the assault on libraries been so vicious. School libraries are not a legal requirement (unlike prison libraries) so there is no obligation on schools to teach the critical life skill of information literacy or promote reading for pleasure, other than the occasional half-arsed government dictat which leaves libraries out of the equation when they are best placed to deliver this. And despite all the empirical evidence from the OECD and other international research organisations that boldly states that access to a good quality school library not only improves examination results, but also children’s life chances. (Don’t get me started!).
But who cares about children?
Public libraries, which are a statutory requirement, are being deliberately set up to fail, so when the government finally decides to repeal the 1964 Public Libraries Act, no one will care enough to protest any more, since the quality will be so dire they will no longer be valued. Volunteers are important, but they are NO substitute for highly trained professional staff who adhere to a code of professional ethics and have such a wide knowledge-base. Libraries are not simply rooms full of books – they are access to information, with people on hand who know how to access, interpret, synthesise and communicate that information. They are an absolute lifeline to the poorest sections of our communities, providing the education that the education system doesn’t have time or will to do. And with the simultaneous threats to voluntary organisations such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux, they have never been more important.
But who cares about poor or uneducated people?
I’m sick of hearing that everything is on the internet and free. This is simply WRONG. Ask a librarian why. It’s also a myth promulgated by those in power to further disenfranchise you without you realising it. The internet is basically full of people who think they’re experts spouting off – the cult of the amateur, white noise that passes for content. There is good solid information out there, but it’s drowned in dross. A librarian can help you sift through it – but when we’re gone, you’re on your own. Good luck with that, really.
Good quality, reliable, accurate information is not, by and large, free. A couple of years ago there was an article in The Guardian about the future of University libraries, in which a student was interviewed and proudly declaimed that libraries were obsolete, as he got all the information he needed for his degree for free from the internet, naming several sources. These sources were all a) provided by the University Library and b) VERY, VERY expensive. Once he was out of University, he would find that he would no longer be able to access this information. Lots of professionals I speak to bemoan the fact that they can’t get access to the research and information they need to be able to do their jobs properly.
But who cares about students?
Librarians do. And libraries provide. They are an essential part of our society and encapsulate the utopian dream that no human being is worthless or without hope. That we all have the right to learn and grow and develop and experience a multitude of worlds and realities through reading. That we are all, essentially, equal.
And that is simply revolutionary.
It’s what those in power want to take away from you.
Even if you don’t use a library yourself, support them anyway. Because when they’re gone, some essential part of ourselves is gone – our society will be a different shape, and it won’t be good.