My wife and I are currently going through a clean out of what some refer to as "treasured memories", and I refer to as "a load of old clutter", to create space for our first child, due next March. (Cash donations welcome.)
As such, and as painful as it was to admit it, we decided the time had come to drastically reduce the sheer number of beloved books we’ve acquired over the years, and gain some real estate back.
We’ve spent a lot of money on the printed word in that time, and we were fairly brutal in our culling – ending up with four large boxes of books.
Knowing how important books are, and how expensive they can be to buy brand new, we decided we’d donate them to places where others could make good use of them without having to spend an arm and a leg.
On our way to the charity establishments of south-west London, we had the idea of calling into our local library to see if we could help boost their selection. I’ve always been a big believer and supporter of local libraries, which are usually free to join and borrow books from, and I firmly believe they were key to developing my passion for reading.
But what came next surprised us to say the least. We were directed to the chief librarian who, after ignoring us for a bit, eventually came outside to look at our books.
Now, I’m certainly not claiming we own purely Nobel Prize-winning titles. But among the range was some solid stuff from Simon Schama, Wilbur Smith and Khaled Hosseini. Not to mention plenty of excellent travel books, help books and the much sought-after History Of The Spark Plug… wait, not the last one.
The books were given a cursory glance. Then she told us she couldn’t really be bothered to look over them, and if she picked up anything they already had, it would be "a right hassle to find the right label".
Without a word of thanks for at least bringing them in, or a civil goodbye, she left us and returned inside.
What occurred to me on the way back, once several extremely pleasant and grateful charity shops took our books, was to wonder whether a modern library could afford to adopt such a flippant attitude at a time when the digital age is replicating the need for the printed book, and more importantly, the requirement to travel to a library to learn.
This isn’t a piece about digital versus print, I should point out – I still love the feel of a book (we did keep some of our faves) and I’m sure enough are sold to make printing them worthwhile for now.
But my concern was that libraries, to me, are still fundamentally about tangible print you can physically borrow and return, a lifeline to many. And I wonder what the future is for them?
In 10 years, will libraries have done away with books altogether and will they provide loanable e-readers instead? Will your library card actually be your way to log into the library’s online ecosystem?
Libraries have done so much to move with the times and it’s fantastic they are, for a lot of people, somewhere to connect to the internet, to feel part of a community and have access to resources they might not otherwise have.
But is the library as important as it always was? And what is its future? Please share your thoughts in the discussion below, or in the forum.