There are 4,500 public libraries in Britain, as well as almost 1,000 national and academic libraries. As local authority budgets are reduced by the government’s cuts, up to 500 libraries around the country will have to close. Librarians – traditionally seen as a mild, herbivorous breed – are up in arms. Partly because public libraries are often seen as a soft target; partly because they say local authorities consistently undervalue the breadth of what they do; and partly because the cutting will be done during a recession, which is exactly when everyone starts going to the library again.
The libraries’ most powerful asset is the conversation they provide – between books and readers, between children and parents, between individuals and the collective world. Take them away and those voices turn inwards or vanish. Turns out that libraries have nothing at all to do with silence.