Thursday, February 02, 2006


I’ve always regarded decent public libraries as one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. The promotion of literacy is a function of government the neglect of which will have negative consequences in the long term.

Judging by the dowdy standards of most of our public libraries, most councils place a very low priority on this essential service. It increasingly seems that councils much prefer to splurge council tax payer’s money on mobility scooters for bastards too lazy to walk, and five veg a day implementation officers.

I’ve always held the view that the purpose of libraries is to lend books. These days most of them seem to be a cross between internet cafes and video rental shops. I don’t see why my taxes should be used to provide internet access for gap year Aussies who want to email their Auntie Sheila in Brisbane.

Then there is the library staff; a shuffling mass of middle aged women who appear to be aspiring towards bag lady chic. I’m sure there must be a secret recruitment policy that strongly favours female applicants with faces like a bag of weasels and a wardrobe consisting of frumpy cardigans, ill fitting beige slacks, and flat shoes.

As far as I’m concerned, all public libraries should resemble a branch of Waterstones bookshops. Not only can you find any book you want at Waterstones; you are permitted to slump on a comfy sofa and read to your hearts content. As long as you don’t crack open a can of Special Brew the staff will pay no attention to you.

Maybe that’s the future for our public libraries. Make them into Waterstones franchises with an ancillary lending facility at a nominal fee. Everyone would be much happier with the service, and could visit safe in the knowledge that they wouldn’t be glowered at by a miserable old bag with buck teeth.


Kyahgirl said...

Your libraries must be different from ours. we have comfy chairs sprinkled around in nooks and crannies so you can read all day if you like. However, the 'dowdy librarian' stereotype IS alive and well.

Wyndham said...

Here, here. Mind you, I seem to remember public libraries not being much different 20 years ago. Grim places. With the exception being that they had books in them and not all the latest video releases from about 10 years ago.

garfer said...

Even dole offices provide a more welcoming ambience these days.

Threadbare dumps with shelves crammed with pump thrillers and romances. No wonder the librarians look so dispirited.

S.I.D. said...

I like the dowdy librarian look.

Especially the look they give me when I produce my Bush whiskey filled hip flask.

I'm reading, they weep.

Could do without the adventure playground for kids that have appeared though.

Faltanus said...

i don't know about there, but here librarians make next to no money, so that might explain (in part) the style choices they make.

i have to admit that i don't believe in libraries myself. my philosophy is, "if a book is worth reading, it's worth owning." they are my one real vice. i spend way to much on books, but i guess it's better than being addicted to drugs or whatnot.

garfer said...

I don't borrow books from libraries much, but they're good places to sit and read on a rainy day (or would be if they had a better atmosphere).

It's either that or spend money in the pub.

funny thing said...

I am a community outreach worker for the council, suposedly promoting literacy and numeracy.

It's not generally known, that what I really want to be when I grow up is a dumpy bag in hairy green slacks and a thinning orange perm.

In fact, the council has a whole department devoted to scaring people away from libraries... it is our policy to employ people with Parkinsons Disease or speech disorders, just to piss people off.

Libraries rock!

Sniffy said...

I think there's something comforting in knowing that everybody in the UK has the same image come to mind when the word "library" crops up. People have different ideas about the word "librarian" of course.

Skip to the end...

This is portrayed really well in Victoria Wood's 1991(ish) episode "In the library". If it's absolutely true, does it cease to be a stereotype?

suburban wonder said...

We just got a new library about 3 years ago. I love it - it's modern, brightly lit, and full of great books & media. It has study rooms, comfy chairs, and a cafe in another part of the building. I could happily spend an afternoon there.

I usually check out books that I'm not interested in owning, because like Faltanus, I own a shitload of books.

Our librarians at the new branch are a mix of ages, genders, and ethnicities. I can't generalize them.

garfer said...

Some of our central libraries are like that.

It's the ones in suburbs and small towns that are crap.

Betty said...

Bexleyheath library was shut for nearly a year for a refurb. This meant that it now has a vile 1973 bright purple carpet and a vending machine (aka "Cafeteria"). Fortunately everything is still covered with a layer of dust and the copy of the video of the Duchess Of Duke Street is still on the shelves.

MHN for short said...

I always love a good library and have in my lifetime spent a good deal of time in them. You couldn't have picked a better picture of Alice Beasley as the librarian, although she does look more chic in Leagally Blonde. :-)