Colin Drury made a number of interesting suggestions in his recent piece on the future of branch libraries.
I am an avid reader and buyer of books, as well as a borrower of books from libraries, but I recognise that reading is now a minority pursuit.
However, if I come across a new book that I would like to read, I need only to reserve it online and it will shortly be available to collect from my nearest branch library.
This costs me nothing.
The council doesn’t support pigeon fanciers or model plane enthusiasts in this way but, as Colin said, there is still this sentimental notion that books have to be available on the rates.
The first free libraries were established by philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie with the aim of helping poorer people to improve their minds. Ironically, it is the middle classes who are campaigning to keep them open.
The council’s website shows that Ecclesall and Totley libraries are much better used than those in Tinsley and Darnall.
This means that ratepayers living in the latter areas, as well as non-library users everywhere else, are subsidising their better-off counterparts. I can think of no other service provided by the council where this applies.
The price of new books has hardly risen for 20 years and most new books, including the blockbusters, are massively discounted. Second-hand books can be bought through internet booksellers for barely more than the cost of delivery.
All this points to giving serious consideration to charging people either for library membership or for borrowing books.
Libraries already charge for the hire of DVDs and CDs, as well as for using the People’s Network, so why should printed material be exempt? It must be possible to come up with a scale of charges related to people’s circumstances.
Although I believe it is important to encourage children to read and to love books, I don’t feel that they should be exempt from charges if they (or rather their parents) can afford to pay.
I think the council also needs to look at whether some ervices provided by the Central Library are still necessary or, at least, whether they should remain free to users.
Any visitor to the reference library will see the enormous range of weekly and monthly periodicals that are available. Who these are read by?
Both of our universities have well-stocked libraries. Couldn’t the Central Library come to some arrangement with them to pool their resources and make them available to everyone?
Paul Kenny, S3