Entering the library recently (the public library; I am not a country squire) and struck, as I often am, by how few customers were there, I was reminded of Britain’s long-running and typically self-righteous pretend-battle with the supermarkets, about how they have driven small shops from the High Street. No, dear customer, the supermarkets have not done this unaided; you have lent your full support. Do you use those struggling small shops? Don’t you prefer the ease and lower prices of the supermarkets?
In the same way, though you might sometimes add your name to a ‘save-our-libraries’ petition, do you actually use your public library? Really use it, on a regular basis – doing something, like borrowing a book, which will register in library-use statistics? For if you do not leave your mark you are casting your vote for the other side, that of the growing majority who make no use of libraries and who therefore, by deduction, do not care. ‘Less customers, less books borrowed’ means less need for the service. By your behaviour (or lack of it) you show that, for you, the library is not important. It doesn’t matter any more.
What to do? Surely I don’t need to spell it out? Use your library – you may find you have to re-register your out-of-date library card (a matter of moments) – and take out some books. Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether you read those books or not; the statisticians will never know. What they will know is that another digit has been added to the number of active borrowers, and that another several digits have been added to the number of books taken out. With luck, your favourite authors – those whose books you borrow – will earn a few pence in PLR as well.
Oh, you’re too busy? Even though you can renew – and order – your books online? Yes, occasionally you do have to turn up; books, after all, are physical items – though again, you can borrow ebooks from libraries online – and the modicum of exercise involved in walking up the library steps (I forgot: they all have wheelchair access now) will do you good. It will do the libraries good. They need you. So please, get to your feet just once a month (by all means more) and remember what you were told by Peter Pan: Every time you use the library, clap your hands – don’t let them die.