I haven’t been to my local library for years. I stopped going because I could never find anything to read. There were a few new books on display but never anything I actually wanted to read. The shelves themselves remained the same year after year after interminable year. And the place was full of snoring old farts on dirty chairs and the sound of frantic typing on the computer keyboards.
So I stopped going. Recently, however, I’ve had the desire to read something easy. Fantasy or romance or popular thrillers….that sort of thing. I’ve currently got six books on the go which makes me think they are all the wrong book. The worst of the bunch is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which, after much effort (Goodreads review to follow later), I’ve finally ditched once it reached my top three Most Hated Books of All Time. I need a break, I thought. I need to read something, well, nice.
And, after all, surely the library couldn’t be THAT bad? Except that it could. In fact, it was worse. Much, much worse. The children’s section used to be a lovely room in the basement, cheerful and full of books – this has now been brought upstairs with the adult fiction. The Young Adults section had several books I might have liked – but no volume 1 of any series, making them all instantly unreadable.
The Science Fiction section has shrunk to a few shelves only, containing several series as well that might have interested me – except, again, no volume 1. Sometimes they would only have volume 6. What’s the fucking point of that? Perhaps the volumes 1 are out, perhaps someone else is reading them – but these are the SAME series that were there five years ago and there were no volumes 1 then either. Other sections have vanished entirely, such as historical fiction and romance. They have all been thrown in with fiction, which makes it an unbearable mishmash. I glanced over several shelves and recognised every book I had ever read. Nothing had changed. There were hardly any books of interest to me.
A terrible depression came over me as I stood in front of that sad, depleted, useless sci-fi section. I haven’t been to this library for five years and NOTHING has changed. It’s just worse. The shelves are untidy and uninspiring. The books are ancient and dirty. Many titles are mislabelled and would do better in their own section. No one actually works in the library either. It has an unloved, abandoned air.
It’s a well-known fact that public libraries are shutting down faster than you can say government indifference. There seems to be no solution. If it was a matter of needing money for books, I’m sure people would love to donate the books themselves. I recently gave a pile of virtually brand new books, mostly hardbacks, to Oxfam. They were in better condition than anything on the library shelves. But since there are no staff to process the new books, there’s no point in promoting this idea.
It’s not just public libraries that are suffering. I work in a university library and the cuts are blatant with reduced staff, reduced customer service and no funding for anything, not least of which cleaning the filthy fucking shelves. Oh, the shelvers can wear face masks if the dust gets too much. Really? And what about the students that end up covered in black sticky dust every time they reach down for a book in, for example, the disgustingly dirty Literature section?
There’s a reason why the library in Alexandria burned down: nobody cares about books. They say they do but they don’t.
I could stand on my soapbox about this for days but the apathy that hangs in a pall over my local library has worn me down. We need libraries but the libraries we have suck. A bit like life.