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Speak Up for Libraries

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Speak Up for Libraries, ‘a coalition of organisations and campaigners working to protect libraries and library staff, now and in the future’, is lobbying Parliament this afternoon. Anyone who needs reminding what’s at stake could reread Alan Bennett’s piece published in the LRB last July:

In the current struggle to preserve public libraries not enough stress has been laid on the library as a place not just a facility. To a child living in high flats, say, where space is at a premium and peace and quiet not always easy to find, a library is a haven. But, saying that, a library needs to be handy and local; it shouldn’t require an expedition. Municipal authorities of all parties point to splendid new and scheduled central libraries as if this discharges them of their obligations. It doesn’t. For a child a library needs to be round the corner. And if we lose local libraries it is children who will suffer. Of the libraries I have mentioned the most important for me was that first one, the dark and unprepossessing Armley Junior Library. I had just learned to read. I needed books. Add computers to that requirement maybe but a child from a poor family is today in exactly the same boat.

Comments

  1. Helen DeWitt says:

    I first went to England in September 1978, having taken a leave of absence from my college in the US. I had applied to study classics at Oxford; it was necessary to sit a series of entrance examinations. So I stayed in a hostel in Islington, sharing a room with four other girls, and the Camden School for Girls agreed to let me go there for the exams. It was not possible to revise in the room; I would go to the reading room at Holborn Library and work there. The library had an ancient English-Greek dictionary which I used to practice Greek composition. I was absolutely convinced that I had no chance of being accepted, since British candidates would have been studying the languages for many years, and would also have been trained to write examination essays. I thought that if I did not go through the application and PROVE that it was impossible I would wonder for the rest of my life.

    I think my essay papers must have looked very odd – the tutor who interviewed me said she could ‘see I was trying to do something quite different from the other candidates.’ As it turned out, though, there was enough linguistic ability to compensate for the mere couple of years since I had begun Latin and Greek; I was offered a place at LMH, and later went on to win a Senior Scholarship to Brasenose for a D.Phil.

    It is an unfortunate fact that, for many students at state schools, applying to Oxford looks as absolutely preposterous and hopeless a proposition as it did to an American from a completely different educational system. (It is, naturally, not a shortcoming of the British system if it looks daunting to some random American. We may feel that students from its own schools ought not to feel like interlopers in their own country.) I can only agree with Mr Bennett that providing children from poor families with a good local collection of books and a place to work is an essential corrective to this state of affairs.


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