I was just reading the Guardian’s books website’s article about Roy Clare being forced to apologise to nine year old Library campaigner Jessica Trueman. Mr. Clare is the Chief Executive of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, while Miss. Trueman is a nine year old girl who has been campaigning to save her local library from closure. Mr. Clare, who is obviously a man under some stress given the present situation, made the mistake of comparing Miss. Trueman’s anger at her local library being threatened with closure with the tears shed by teenage girls upon the break-up of Take That.
It’s a very unfortunate incident. I’m sure that we can all understand that everyone says things that they regret at times. The fact that he made regrettable comments is understandable in the context of a man with a difficult and stressful job venting, however he is in a position of respect and should be thinking carefully before he makes comments at people who have very valid complaints, especially when those people are children.
The fact that Jessica Trueman feels so impassioned about libraries is wonderful; in this age of x-boxes and youTube and movies in 3D, a young lady feels strongly enough about books to campaign like this. Jessica Trueman should be applauded, not mocked, and I find it highly worrying that the man who holds the position as Libraries Chief doesn’t seem to find her endeavours the same.
I think in the big debate about libraries sometimes people are forgetting about children. Most adults have some source of income, if they lose libraries they don’t lose the chance to read because they can go and buy books or borrow from the personal collections of friends. Children who like books often read at an almighty rate; I remember when I was a child I’d take out whole piles of books from the library and within days was nagging my parents to make another trip. For children the library is often where they discover books, it’s where they experiment and find new stories and new books and it stimulates the imagination. As young Jessica puts it:
“Books are special. You can read amazing stories and learn about history and different places in the world.”
What concerns me is that if we, as a society, fail to provide easy library access to the young what happens in a generation or two’s time when we see a real decline in reading? There are so many other things competing for people’s attention now but none of them can match books’ ability to inform, entertain and expand the mind. The last thing we need as a society is for reading to become the pursuit of an ever smaller minority.
Miss. Trueman’s anger at the closure of her library is nothing like the tears shed by young girls, all of those years ago, over the break up of Take That. How can the head of our libraries compare the millenia old pastime of reading to the transitory passing of another pop music act? Plus, while John Major had no ability to reunite Take That, Mr. Cameron does have the power to help with the library closures. Yes, the economy is in trouble and cuts were needed but Libraries are an area where the net contribution to society is surely greater than the cost? Not only do libraries provide books but they also provide other services to the community, play a major role in education, and provide jobs.
I’m the first to say that I think the library system needed reforming in some ways, but that reform should not mean reducing the access people have to books, especially not the young.