I needn't have worried.
Even the proposer did not wish to see the end of libraries and it was a majority victory against the motion, though the proposer argued that libraries still had to 'stack up' and be financially viable. I did not agree. Libraries are a public service. Nor do I accept the argument that cuts must be made somewhere and we need to decide what we want to keep. As long as we are paying for all our services through our local and national taxes. we need to RECEIVE all our services in my view. To talk about alternative methods of funding (as one audience member suggested) for public services such as libraries just means that we would pay for the same services in different ways twice over!
There was an interesting letter in the local paper this week pointing out how in the days when our city was truly broke (ie late 70s with 3-day weeks, endless strikes, not much cash around), we enjoyed immaculate parks with award winning flowerbeds, plentiful and spotless public toilets, free museums, bowling greens, leisure centres, a well-resourced library service, free social care and virtually no social housing queue, not to mention plentiful Police and a reasonably well-run NHS. Yet now in an age where the council has never enjoyed more citizens paying council tax and rakes in parking and parking permit revenue undreamt of in the 1970s plus the benefit of a year-round seaside economy, thanks to university growth, suddenly we are expected to accept cut after cut to our local services. If there is genuinely such a deficit we need to first demand to know where our money is going, rather than blithely accept what we are told. Nor did we receive a council rebate for our water rates when they left council jurisdiction to be farmed out to privatised companies under PM Margaret Thatcher in 1989.
But to get back to libraries, yes they have had their cyclical and fashionable ups and downs over the years and some are better supported than others, though this is largely down to how well they are run. Of course they have had to change with the times and run clubs, meetings and events and offer internet access, DVDs, CDs and even toys, but they remain an essential social hub in most communities, without which there is literally no non-commercial public space left for people to go when it rains or for people who can't afford to spend vast sums of money on education, entertainment or taking their children out. NB: It is a truth universally acknowledged that children LOVE libraries and regard them as something akin to magical kingdoms of endless possibility. They are also sadly more likely to get a story read to them at their local library than they are by their own exhausted parents at bedtime these days. Autobiographies abound by poor children made good or who survived bad childhoods crediting the library as their refuge or the key to their success as adults. Let's not forget that Andrew Carnegie himself was such a poor boy made good by libraries and determined to extend that privilege around the world.
In an age pushing us towards 'contactless' life libraries are also a lifeline for the lonely and elderly who are rapidly losing their banks, post offices and human interactions in shops, not to mention free museums. They are also a lifeline for those failed by schools but who cannot afford further education fees.
23% of the population still don't have internet access either, some because they have never joined the internet age and others because they live in parts of the country which don't have internet coverage. It can be a polarising and socially isolating phenomenon leading to some segments of the population suffering disadvantage.
I speak as one who spends half their life on computers and the internet for professional as well as personal reasons. I have nothing against the digital world, except for its threat to take over my life if I let it. The online world may be seductive (and I've had my moments of addiction) but nothing beats real life and spending time doing real things, hanging out with real friends and generally keeping it real. I have to regard the online world as a tool to be kept in life's toolbox for the sake of my own sanity. Often at weekends I refuse to check my Facebook or email for a whole 24hrs, occasionally a whole 48. It feels good and I feel healthier for it. It is rare that I miss anything of importance as a result as a real life friend can always phone me if it's urgent.
The average 18-25 yr old apparently checks their smartphone on average 85 times a day with up to five hours a day spent streaming films and music or on social media. Mental health issues are on the rise as a result of such behaviour as is bullying and that lovely internet trend known as 'trolling'. Concentration levels are also plummeting leading to serious mistakes in people's everyday lives and lower productivity at work.
So what has all this got to do with libraries? Well the true aim of a library is to provide information. To offer signposts in a confusing world. It doesn't matter if that information is multi-media in form or in a book. The modern Library can still provide and the public are still helped.
One also has the regular joy of discovering something new in a library or which you would never have dreamt of reading/watching/listening to had you not stumbled upon it. This doesn't happen on the internet. You search for something, you find it. no surprises. Your horizons are neither challenged nor broadened. And however high resolution screens become, I for one don't want to be staring at them 24/7. I love the smell, tactility and jacket of a book. Nor is it easy to wrap a download as a present for someone. Downloads make lousy presents to go under the Christmas tree! And many people remain unaware that digital downloads are never truly yours, no matter how much you have paid for them. You are merely renting them for life when you buy. Should you wish to leave your music or movie download collection to your son or daughter when you die, you can't. The collection dies with you. Buy a real librarysworth of books, DVDs or CDs and they are physically your property to leave to whomever you wish
Aside from addiction, the online world carries the huge unspoken risk if we put all our eggs in its basket as we are increasingly driven to, the more real life services are transferred onto it. Almost everything online is free now, but the moment it reaches a tipping point of the vast majority of the real world being reliant on the online world to function is the moment we will begin to be charged for all data, including our own. Have you ever wondered what the true intentions of 'clouds' are, aside from making it easier to share files? Why, so that you no longer save your own information on your own C-drives or USB sticks of course. So that you have to pay subscriptions to carry on using both software and your data. And it won't just be financial control. Your data will be able to be stolen and used against you in all kinds of ways. Microsoft, Apple and Google are no benign entities. Each has world domination intentions or are owned by powers who do. Those endless compulsory computer 'updates' are not for our benefit, no, but to increase the stranglehold on us and our data (sic the recent case of an HP printer download rendering all HP printers unable to accept cheaper generic cartridges so that printer owners were forced to pay through the nose for genuine HP cartridges).
When this digital bubble bursts and our love affair with the computer age ends I predict libraries will enjoy a renaissance comparable only to their rise in Victorian times. Free information, education and entertainment will be prized above all else once we have had a taste what digital Big Brother has to offer.
Meantime with national literacy and grammar levels plummeting and the rise of social media contributing to the shrinking and bastardisation of our vocabulary. we remain in dire need of our libraries if we did but know it. Social mobility and progress is currently going backwards to the bad old days when few people could read and write properly. We are well and truly in the age of the unenlightenment, but hang in there and this too will pass, for ultimately we are cyclical beings who learn, forget, make mistakes and then learn again.