The government review on public libraries in Great Britain has just been published. Libraries are increasingly facing spending cuts by local councils but they form a vital part of our communities and do a considerable amount to raise the level of literacy in the UK, as well as introduce the pleasure of reading to many, myself included. If it hadn't been for my local library when a child I doubt I would ever have discovered Enid Blyton who kick-started my life-long passion for reading (and writing).
The report concludes that Britain's public libraries can still flourish if they offer free internet access, Sunday opening and a promise to provide any book in the national book collection. It also insists that councils must retain a statutory duty to provide a universal library service, which is good news.
The government review, which has taken nearly two years, proposes library membership entitlement from birth (I thought that was already in existence) and a suggestion that membership of one public library provide access to other libraries. It suggests that commercial companies such as Starbucks should be allowed to set up outlets in libraries to make them more welcoming places. Some might debate whether Starbucks would actually make a library more welcoming. It's all a matter of taste.
Other findings include a statutory ban on libraries charging for ebooks, including remotely, and extending the public lending right to non-print books - a move that all authors will welcome because it means we will receive a small sum of money every time an audio book or e book is borrowed, as well as the printed version. It proposes a big extension in the availability of ebooks - fine. (All my books are available as e books except for the latest Inspector Andy Horton crime novel, Blood on the Sand)
And it states that free access to the internet in all Britain's libraries should be provided by 2011, and that users should be able to access social networking sites such as Facebook - they'll have to limit time then methinks!
Margaret Hodge the minister responsible for the review, writes: 'As every good librarian knows, public libraries are not about sitting back and passively waiting for people to borrow your books. They are about active engagement with the community, making links to other public services and responding to the policy imperatives of the day.' Not sure what that last phrase means.
Helen Rees from Southampton, says, 'Yes, they (libraries) are about borrowing books, and yes, they are about housing books. A library without books is not a library, whatever else it may be. If you could keep this basic fact in mind, you might find "inventing" a local library a whole lot easier.'