The word ‘library’ may send shivers down our spines at this time of year. Not only is it a setting many university students associate with essays and studying but in the case of Glasgow University, it is also a place where it is impossible to find a seat.
However, libraries are important. Not only are they exciting and often beautiful; (in Glasgow we are lucky enough to have the great Mitchell Library, a wonderful piece of architecture), but libraries also encourage equality. It is a space in which money is not required, merely a membership. Anyone can enjoy the wonder and excitement of a good book, regardless of their background or income. Moreover, for children, libraries are often their first source of literature. I can still recall the excitement of going to visit the library as a child; there was no limit to how many books I could consume. Just as Matilda in Roald Dahl’s classic finds solace in her local library, council-funded libraries all over Britain provide a safe haven for everyone.
Many esteemed writers have backed up this view; novelist Zadie Smith describes libraries as ‘essential’. In her most recent collection, Public Library and Other Stories, writer Ali Smith draws attention to the worrying fact that libraries are on the decline in Britain. Last year, The Independent stated that ‘the number of library visitors have fallen by four million in four years’. This staggering figure is deeply worrying. The threat of closures and job losses alongside these valuable community spaces should not be taken lightly. Even in the past year, at Glasgow University, staff hours in the library have been cut.
It may be important for us all to then revalue libraries, to find excitement and amazement in the fact that our own university library contains thousands of books, each of which may have been read by hundreds of people. As our library developments take place, it is no better time than ever before to appreciate how lucky we are to have access to such a wealth of knowledge. With the rise of the internet, there is always the fear that books may die out. Let’s not let the libraries be the first to go.
Image: University of Glasgow