Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Campaigning for the Book - Lucy Coats




I’ve never been much of a firebreathing active campaigner, really, being generally meek, mild and as retiring as a hedgehog in hibernation season (well, that’s how I see myself, anyway). Although I’ve signed a few petitions, been on a couple of marches (taking along a very British thermos of hot tea, naturally), I’ve never stood on a soapbox in Hyde Park and speechified (I mean, crikey, I might get noticed), preferring to hide in the background as one of the passive millions.

Then last summer I started hearing about cuts, and books being thrown into skips; reading about good, dedicated, knowledgable librarians getting the sack, as well as libraries being turned into computer suites, or closed completely--and I started to get very angry. When I was growing up, I was lucky enough to live in a house where there were books. But they weren’t terribly interesting books to me at that time (apart from my very own set of Beatrix Potter), being mostly either obscure French novels in the original language, heavy classics or technical sporting tomes. When I wanted to move on from Janet and John, Basingstoke Public Library was the place I haunted, every week, and sometimes more often if I could persuade my mother to take me. Without Basingstoke Public Library and its knowledgeable and patient children’s librarian, I wouldn’t be half as well-read as I am now, because I was a voracious devourer of anything and everything once I got going, and we simply couldn’t have afforded to buy all the endless picture books, Puffins and whatnot which I lugged home and curled up with with a happy sigh of anticipation.

Latin: liber, libri (m)—a book. It’s all in the name--it's why they are called libraries. Libraries, in my opinion, are where a copy of every book written is meant to live at some time in its life. The books in libraries are meant to be freely borrowed and then to educate, to give pleasure, to take you to other worlds and all the myriad other things they do, and afterwards be returned to do it all over again for someone else, (probably on the advice of one of those aforementioned patient and knowledgeable librarians). But now, apparently, books are out, and computer suites are in. While I am the first to admit the benefits of technology, this does not mean that real books with actual pages are dead, obsolete, extinct, nor that children no longer need or want them. Of course, as an author, I would say that. I write some of the books that are in those same libraries, and it is there that some of my readers make their first acquaintance with me (many, many thousands of them, according to the nice people at PLR today). And I don’t wish ever to live in a world where the marvellous cartoon by Roz Asquith at the top of this page is a reality. So that’s why, despite my retiring nature, I got involved with The Campaign for the Book, instigated by fellow author Alan Gibbons, himself a tireless and wonderful activist. I haven’t set the campaigning world on fire yet, but I have set up and am running the Campaign’s Facebook page in order to try and spread the word. If you are reading this blog, and you care about children continuing to have access to and advice on actual books in libraries, both in school and out, instead of merely sitting in what Alan calls ‘a café with a Playstation in the corner,’ then please go into your local library and tell them you care. They’ve never needed you more. Join us. Please.

8 comments:

Anne Rooney said...

Lucy, I would happily go into my local library if it were open! It's been shut for - I'd say - two years for 'refurbishment' and while a shopping centre (now open) has been built around it. So no city library - and that's in Cambridge! I have wondered whether they are leaving it closed until people no longer expect there to be any books in a library.

Hear, hear to everything you say! The local library when I was a child had Edward Gorey books, and I think that shaped me for life. It's not just there being books - it's also which books there are. A thoughtful librarian, who makes choices that cover a wide range, gives children the best possible start. A library bought from Waterstones (or any high street store that just stocks sure sellers) would be much less valuable.

Lucy Coats said...

Cambridge has no library? Yet another notch on the governmental post of shame, then. I wonder what a polite enquiry to the LGO as to when the 'refurbishment' will be done might produce?

Anne Rooney said...

They originally said Autumn 2008 - now it's 'early 2009'. Which can be any time in the next four months, I guess. It's not looking very nearly finished.

Anne Rooney said...

PS - but (if it ever opens) it has an exemplary layout. Books on the first two floors and computers, CDs etc relegated to the top floor. One thing that may be a brilliant idea is a quick-pick facility: a little bit in the entrance with an ever-changing stock of popular titles people can pick up easily and quickly (self-issue). Will it work, do you think, to get more people borrowing? Or will people only borrow the quick picks and not venture futher?

Lucy Coats said...

I think it would work if a) the 'quick picks' were of a thoughtful and non-obvious nature (which they will be with a good, creative librarian) and b) if the said 'quick picks' then entice people in deeper on the second visit because they liked the first choice. I don't see why that shouldn't happen.

Katherine Langrish said...

Cambridge? no public library in Cambridge for two years? good god. What are the people who want to read supposed to do in the meantime? Libraries = civilization.

Anne Rooney said...

I am wondering if the bookshops have clubbed together and paid to keep it closed.

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