The reading matter in pews is limited

Andrew Brown is also eloquent on the subject.

The whole point about the net is that, like books, it gives people a shared space and a shared experience that is not physical. If I sit in an internet cafe – or even, God forbid, an office – and talk to someone on the net, I am far closer to the person to whom I am talking than to the noble workers on each side of me, who would never dream of emailing gossip in the middle of a working day. When I read a book, I am communing with the author, and perhaps with all the
other readers, not with anyone else in the railway carriage.

This is one of the exciting things about books (and the net), and turning libraries into youth clubs is one way to make that fact harder to discover.

Learning outside school is an essentially solitary process, too. It requires concentration; it may not require silence all the time – I often find it helpful to read or work in a cafe – but when studying needs outside stimulus, you take the book away from the library, a service they already offer.

The libraries don’t need to provide the noise for you. Noise is easy to find; quiet is not, especially for people who don’t have money.

What is particularly cruel and futile about the Burnham plan is that it destroys the one thing that libraries offer which no amount of internet cafes, Starbucks or even skating can offer: the place where poor students can find the calm they need to try to teach themselves things that are genuinely hard to learn. Middle-class or richer children, or children at good schools, can always find a place to be quiet and study with concentration. But there must be lots of people for whom a library is the only free public space outside a church where you can hope for calm; and the reading matter in church pews tends to be depressingly limited.

Library students everywhere please take note. (They won’t though – they hated this article as well as the Indy one.)

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