|Not wanted by UKIP / Samantha Marx|
As austerity measures are introduced in the UK and elsewhere, there has been much discussion of what public services should be cut. British Conservative MEP, Roger Helmer has suggested on his website that “in the internet age, libraries are nice to have, but in an age of financial austerity, they’re by no means essential.”
He argues that the public no longer need libraries because, “Even those on average or low incomes can afford a couple of paperbacks to read on the beach in Benidorm.” The reference function has also disappeared, he argues, stating that, “you can check any reference in seconds on Google, for nothing.”
This view is disputed by Guy Daines, Director of Policy & Advocacy, Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP), who says, “Public libraries are much more than just a room with books and computers. They provide public access to the knowledge and information of the world; promote reading and literature to all ages and the whole of society; enable learning and literacy from cradle to grave; serve local people as a community hub to deliver essential services and activities; and act as a cost-saver for society by combating ignorance, alienation, isolation, division and the lack of aspiration.”
In the UK library services are provided by local government and remain popular, with ust under 325 million visits and 114 million visits to library websites in 2008/9. The UK Race Online 2012 project is designed to encourage the 10 million people yet to access the internet to get online by 2012.
Daines adds that, “Not only do libraries make a valuable contribution to our society, they stand for important values in our society including intellectual freedom, equality of opportunity, engaged citizenship, informed democracy, and a society in which people have the chance to achieve their potential.”
This view is supported by Andrew Carnegie, who said, “There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.”
When financial cutbacks are looming, Helmer says, “If it gets to be a choice between libraries and kidney dialysis, I’d rather fund dialysis.” no such choice is on offer, but the MEP might take notice that, if the choice was between funding MEP expenses and libraries, the future for Britain’s book lovers would be assured.