Saturday, 5 February 2011

Save the Libraries

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Today is a day of action for the libraries. People are emptying shelves, having a shh-in (I love that one), and in Cambridge, of course, staging a flashmob reading. I'm not sure how flash reading works, and I rather hope they do a little dance as well, but it makes me laugh that is happening in old East Anglia.

When Liam Byrne left the Treasury, he wrote a note for his successor. It said: Sorry, there is no money left.

This is not a joke. I rather envy those opponents of the government who can say, to cheap applause, oh well, if we just taxed the bankers (cue rhyming slang alert) everything would be fine. How lovely it must be to see the world in such simple terms. I used to see it that way myself. But the fact is that as everyone gets hysterical over the million pound bonuses, no one points out that five hundred thousand of that goes straight to the Inland Revenue, and even more than that if you factor in VAT, fuel duty, and other indirect taxes. The top rate of tax remains, under a Conservative prime minister, at 50%. I do not see how it could go much higher without people starting to run away to Liechtenstein.

I wish that the damn bankers and hedge fund managers and those idiot credit default swap cowboys could be the solution to our problems, but someone once calculated that even if you confiscated every single bonus wholesale it would not put a dent into the deficit. That's before one even contemplates the trillion pound national debt. There really is no money left, and we are rolling along on three wheels and some baling twine.

So, much as I believe in government and public spending, much as I am an instinctive Keynsian, I do see that the cuts are not some dilettante whim, but hard financial necessity. But I also know that to govern is to choose, and choosing the libraries seems to be bad policy. They are not just dusty places that lend Catherine Cookson novels to old ladies. They do incredible work with children. My friend the Man of Letters is always going off to some library or other to do a children's event. The National Literacy Trust found that children who used libraries were more than twice as likely to be above average readers. I know I rail against reductive simplicity the whole time, but I do really believe that if the children cannot read then this country has a bleak future. For the relatively small amount of money saved by closing libraries, a price beyond rubies will be paid in the long run.

It's hard for me to talk about this with any objectivity. I love my local library with a deep, beating love. It is a miracle of public service. I get piles of books for free, which I use for my work, and for sheer pleasure. My local librarians are miraculous literary detectives. I often need books for research which are so obscure and out of print that they hardly even exist any more. I take in a list, and a few days later I get a call: the precious objects have been found, and delivered, and all I have to do is go and pick them up.

A couple of years ago there was a particularly vital book I needed for which I had almost no hope. I could only find one extant copy on ABE books, and that was in Minnesota, and it cost over a hundred dollars. In a vain last hope, I went to see Audrey the librarian. I did not think there was any chance, but she calmly wrote down the name and said she would see what she could do. Three weeks later, she called in triumph. She had tracked down a copy in Southampton, and it had come all the way to Scotland, scuffed and old and worn and held together with sellotape. I could hardly believe it. Now I rather think that Audrey has some kind of mystical powers. (She always laughs at me when I tell her this.)

Luckily for me, my library is safe. I am not certain I could do my work without it. But if yours is in any danger at all, please do not take it for granted. Use it. The more people go back to the libraries, the more they will thrive. I am not sure what can be done, but there must be petitions to be signed, letters to the council to be written (these are local rather than central government decisions), even flashmobs to join. A world without the public libraries would be a sadder, thinner place.

And that's my rant for the day. Now I shall climb down off my hobby horse and have a nice soothing cup of coffee.

Here are your pictures of the day.

Up the avenue we went:

6th Feb 1

6th Feb 2

To see Virginia the Pig:

6th Feb 8

She came hurtling out of the woods when she heard me call, and gladly ate up a handful of pig nuts:

6th Feb 9

Before her old boyfriend could snaffle them all:

6th Feb 10

The boyfriend is the most posh and rare of rare breeds, but I still think he looks like one of those old rockers for whom the seventies never quite went away.

(These pictures are especially for my friend Amber, who loves nothing more than a pig, and yearns for one of her very own.)

I love this old tree stump. For some reason it makes me think of the Giant's Causeway:

6th Feb 3

A magnificently gnarled beech:

6th Feb 4

Delicate little tree fern:

6th Feb 5

This marking looks like some kind of abstruse sign. In fact, it is a patch of desiccated moss:

6th Feb 6

One of the ancient yews:

6th Feb 7

Lichen and conifers:

6th Feb 11


6th Feb 12

Almost nothing I like more than a really good pile of wood:

6th Feb 13

The glory of the beeches:

6th Feb 14

6th Feb 14-1

6th Feb 15

I love how this one has come out pale and slightly washed-out:

6th Feb 16

The Duchess, very duchessy today, looking to the south:

6th Feb 16-1

And to the north:

6th Feb 16-2

The Pigeon, serious:


And smiling:

6th Feb 18-1

The view, serene and still:

6th Feb 17-1

And and AND, as I walked back to the garden, I suddenly saw - THE FIRST SNOWDROPS:

6th Feb 18

I actually said the words Ooh ooh ooh out loud, I was so excited. The battery on my camera was flashing red, which is why this shot is a little blurred. I was in such a panic to catch it before the battery went I could not focus. But there they are, the darlings, the very first sign of spring.

Then the battery died stone dead, and it takes so long to recharge that there is no hill today. This feels like the most shocking dereliction of duty, and I shall be fretting about it for the next hour. You shall have to imagine the hill in your mind, elegant and sloping and faintly purple in the fading light.

Have a lovely weekend.


  1. Entirely agree about libraries and love the photos of Virginia and her boyfriend!

  2. Jennifer - so pleased you like the sweet pigs. :)

  3. We were at the library today. Ours are apparently safe twitter tells me. It was certainly busy as it always is.

    I don't think either side is right in the "no money left what should we do?" debate and both are guilty of oversimplifying both the problem and the possible solution. falseEconomy and UKUncut are good on the alternative view.Unfortunately knowing some of the hedge fund/ banker high flyers PAYE just never seems to apply to them in the same way it does to the rest of us whether they are here or tucked up in Zug.

    Loving the pigs. my jobsharer has some but as soon as you get to know them they appear as sausages to be replaced by a new pair. Have a good weekend.

  4. I was babysat by my local library during my formative years. Every Saturday, while my parents were working. Sometimes I think this single aspect saved my sanity and my childhood and gave me a treasure trove of knowledge, soaked up like a sponge, that no one can ever take away from me. Yes, I'd be up in arms against the closing of libraries if I still lived in the UK. Saving on education is egregious, because a country's wealth and worth can be measured in the level of education of its populace.
    Sorry for banging on, but this is something I feel very strongly about. By the way, and terribly sorry for being a boring pedant, but it's Liechtenstein. =)

  5. It's not meant to sound smug that my first glimpse of Snowdrop in my garden was on January 15th. However, Norfolk is going to be rather further ahead than the wilds of Scotland, I suppose... So happy for your excitement! (I now have them under almost every single hedge in the garden.)

  6. Betty M - really interesting comment, thank you. And so glad you like the pigs.

    Imogene - I too have very happy childhood library memories. And NEVER apologise for being a pedant. I am the most terrible pedant and am MORTIFIED by my bad spelling. Thank you for pointing it out, so I could correct it before too many people read the awful error. :)

    Cassie - every year it amazes me how far we are behind the south. But the dear snowdrops are always worth the wait.

  7. I could have wept when i saw the snowdrops. We are huddled here in Massachusetts under several feet of snow, with more expected in the next few days. Somewhere in our garden a tiny bunch of snowdrops is waiting patiently to appear. But not just yet.
    The dogs look magnificent, as ever!

  8. I am at one with you regarding the libraries, and wasn't surprise that your kind librarian Audrey (you should have got more faith in her from the beginning in virtue of such an apt name) could come up with the goods! The system is quite unique and surprisingly effective even in this day and age.
    Loved my first glipmpse of Virginia and boyfriend. The Duchess seemed less aloof today, and the Pigeon's smile was again just almost too much!! :)

  9. Tania - boyfriend pig is hysterical!

    I also enjoyed "three wheels and some baling twine" - an apt analogy for NZ too. Last I heard, we borrowed NZ$265 million per week. Small change for the UK, but there is only 4.1 million of us (at last census).

    I am dismayed to hear about your libraries. I cannot think of a single occasion where the targeting of public access to books has not been inextricably entwined with governance gone bad.

    We have a fantastic new community library just minutes walk from us. It won all the eco. design awards etc., and has very quickly become the hub of our lives. It is absolutely packed every day, from young babies and their mums for free story and movement sessions, to senior citizens, and every age in between. Our children consider it a TREAT.

    I cannot imagine the uproar (uprising?), should our local council focus its cost recovery lens on our public libraries.

  10. I have just read my comment and realised my description of our new library could be considered the stuff of nightmares: wailing babies and irksome rhymes; the blue rinse brigade shouting over the teacups; hordes of disaffected, head-phoned youth on the Playstation etc. etc.

    But somehow, it just works. Bit like a family, really.

    Loved the lane shots too, by the way.

  11. I'm with Michelle - those lane shots were amazing! I enjoy all of your pictures, however those were beautiful. Next to the porcine lovelies, of course.

  12. daisydot - have seen pictures of your terrible blizzards. So hope you get a thaw soon.

    Cristina - so glad you like that ridiculously sweet smile.

    Michelle - I think your library sounds utter heaven. I love the idea of it being filled with life.

    Robyn - so glad you liked the photographs.

  13. I lived in our local library every summer throughout my primary school years (BB -- Before Boys)and read everything I could get my hands on.
    Now it seems to take me forever to sit down and read anything longer than a newspaper/ magazine article. (Brief job as a proofreader means I tend to skim and I can still spot an error from across the room!)
    Last book I read -- the lovely, lovely Life of Pi by Yann Martel -- was ages ago.
    David Sedaris' "Barrel Fever", short stories, is bedside, short being the operative word, I fear.
    I hate that the arts are first cut, last funded and places like museums and libraries are apparently seen as "frills".
    The pig beau reminds me of whatshisname? Noddy Holder??? I think.

    Pat (in Belgium)

    A freak frost got the first snowdrops here last week. (Boo!)


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