Saturday 21 February 2015

HAPPY FACE! SAD FACE! Or Today's Visit to the Library.

Today, returning a book to my local library, I caught the end of the current book sale. Happy face!

I’d bought a batch of books two weeks ago, when the sale started, and now I’ve picked up another batch of non-fiction titles. Today’s cache included several history books, a trio of cookery books (one healthy and two cake!) as well as a “research” book by a reformed medium and finally a score for the musician in the house. I felt smug and satisfied with this haul and am looking forward to reading and using them.

And yet, and yet, I also felt sad about how rapidly libraries dispose of book stock. The drive to make libraries popular with the general public means that books are taken off the shelves within very few years.  (Nor is such “popularity” truly saving the library services from local authority cuts, alas!)

Such rapid culls seem to me to dismiss the work involved in the writing and making of the books. In addition, each “removed title” shrinks the author’s (small) Public Lending Right payment. If that title disappears from every library, that income is over. And if there are less libraries, and less purchasing of books - not the happiest thought for the future. Much as my clutch of books excites me, those stacked tables do represent a quiet loss of income for many writers. In addition (or subtraction?) within the proposed “community library” world, PLR payments are still to be agreed, as far as I understand. If you know differently, I apologise, and I’d be glad to hear. 

 Library re-organisations do seem to give an excuse for book culls, big and small. Famous names have been protesting about the reference stock missing from Manchester’s refurbished Central Library. 

Specialist collections disappear too: one nearby library used to display a collection of early Victorian children’s books. However, during another re-organisation, the collection was boxed up, taken away and is now lost. 

Once upon a time, I’d imagined that, deep within library headquarters, qualified staff checked that all the archives were conserved. Unfortunately, those qualified librarians have been and are being packed off as at great a rate as the books. I'm certainly not getting at them.

I bought my happy stack of “history reference titles” because I wasn’t sure I’d ever get hold of the books otherwise. Recently, asking about a specific educational title, I heard that the public library is not really there to help higher level academic studies. The web isn't the well thought out, well-reasoned answer to everything.

Another book I'd asked about was too expensive to buy – and the inter-library loan system no longer seems to work. So I wander around, and try not to notice the slebs and tv titles filling the biography shelves, pushing other names out and away. Ah well. I know we can’t keep every book forever, but we live in confusing times . . .

I had originally gone to the library to kick-start a halted project but after trying a line or two, I gave up and walked home. Seeing so much written effort discarded, and some titles bearing the names of people I know, I suddenly didn’t feel up to writing after all.

Still, those “Removed from Loan” cookery books will help me make some comforting cake, won’t they?

Enough dismal muttering and lamentation. Enough crabbiness. I hereby declare that I’m reaching for my timer and putting my mind on my stilled project for thirty minutes. Onwards.