At Touching From a Distance (now incorporated into The Spectator), guest poster Prof David McMenemy offers various arguments for the importance of public libraries. At least, he talks a lot about ‘learning spaces’ and ‘vital cogs in the wheels of societal development’ and says things like "in a digital world where publishers can put up paywalls at the click of a mouse, our collective ability to facilitate access to knowledge for our fellow citizens has become even more important." In the comments, Simon suggests that the gap can be plugged by dishing out iPads, which is very 21st Century I suppose.
All of which theorising fails to address the reality of what public libraries are for. Have you had this discussion? Do you find that nearly everyone you know thinks they’re outmoded now that we have Wikipedia and Amazon selling great books for 1p?
Me too, but then I discovered the startling fact that in Britain more books are borrowed from public libraries every year than are sold in all shops.
The top ten authors are here, and their identities tell you all you need to know about how the above startling fact can be. Public libraries are used enormously, but almost entirely by OAPs and parents of young children, two of the least fashionable and most blog-ignored groups in society.
I suggest that the debate about public libraries should therefore start by looking at the needs of these actual library users, rather than with academic theories about learning spaces or the potential of the latest Apple products.