What do the Sugababes, a Seattle-based coffee shop chain and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport have in common? If you guessed that they’re at the forefront of the modernisation of Britain’s libraries, you’d be correct.
Following the honourable member for Leigh’s assertion that libraries were “decades out of date”, news comes that Gloucestershire Libraries Services has installed speakers into the counties’ libraries, piping a bit of the old pop ‘n’ roll as a background whilst their patrons make key decisions: namely, do they go with James Patterson or Harry Potter?
Obviously, there are those that think music of any kind should be banned from these places of (book) worship, and will view this as merely further proof of the descent into anarchy we’re witnessing in our libraries today. I can see their point – my local library (called an Idea Store) can be a bit of a nightmare if one picks the wrong time to go, more akin to break time at a school than what one might consider a place for reading. However, this opinion is more due to the fact I don’t particularly like kids at this point in my life, rather than any deep seated principle as to what a library should or shouldn’t be like…
The problem with the whole modernisation of library debate is that there seems to be no middle ground: the future of the library is either a crypt-like experience, or a rave. From my time spent going through the shelves at the aforementioned Idea Store, I think there’s a bigger issue than updating libraries that needs to be addressed: the selection of books they’ve got ain’t the best. I’m not asking for signed first editions of Don Quixote, just something a bit more diverse than last year’s Book Club selection. For at the end of the day, if the content is crap, no one’s going to bother visiting anyway. And no amount of Starbucks and this week’s Top 40 is going to change that.
Where do you stand on the library debate? Should they be temples of silence, devoted to the deification of the printed word? Or should everyone be able to listen to About You Now whilst deciding between Dan Brown and J M Coetzee?