The most obvious place to read is where the books are: your local library. For most of us, this was where we started on our book loving journey, because it’s fair to say that libraries are the UK’s most accessible ways into culture. There’s no entrance fee (so long as you remember to return your books on time), there’s one in every medium to large size community (and alternative provision in rural areas,though not very useful if you’re at work all day), and alongside the books, films and music, there’s always something on.
My family in Hackney know the value of libraries as a a quiet place to read or work, since London’s ridiculous house prices mean that most working families are crowded into tiny spaces. There’s never any peace and quiet at home, and the park is not much use when it’s cold and raining, but the library is there when you need it.
And then there are the archives! Inspiration to authors, understanding your history and even providing evidence for legal cases (who actually owns that land or has a right of way across it if the Land Registry don’t know?) This needs a whole separate article, but suffice it to say that last week I had the privilege of being taken around Network Rail’s Deeds room the other week and it was awesome. Florence Nightingale and Christopher Wren’s signatures on land they sold to the new railway sitting alongside the structural calculations on drawings of the Forth bridge (apart from being in imperial units, I would’ve drawn a similar set of bending moment distributions on my civil engineering coursework!) Oh, and the Virtual Archive here has all the best bits to view online!
This is our corporate memory. There are so many situations where the fact that someone didn’t throw this stuff away and stored it in an organised manner means I now have treasure when I need it (after all, the Forth bridge is still there and needing maintenance). I’m looking forward to visiting the York archives soon, which I know are a treasure trove of similar proportions – especially having watched the huge crane last summer used to rebuild the archive facility for the future!
But libraries are under threat, being hollowed out by austerity and the Graph of Doom, where every year the funding provided by Government to local councils is cut while the cost of the two things which the law requires all councils to provide (child protection and adult social care) goes up until there is no money for anything else, let alone life-enhancing community assets such as libraries. Caitlin Moran points out that one of the first things to happen during austerity measures is a hollowing-out: the best books are sold off, the opening hours diminish until your local library is a shadow of its former self and who would bother standing up for it?
I’m proud that York isn’t like that. We face the same budgetary constraints, but York Explore has recently become a community benefit company and is determined to thrive by doing more, not less: events, volunteering and book groups. So if you love books, I encourage you to go and get involved in your local library. I just did: today I signed up to be a community member!
Have you visited my other Places to Read?