The Role of Public Libraries in Guaranteeing Access to Knowledge

In Britain, today, many local authorities are cutting public libraries, thinking that this is a relatively painless way to save money. This is short sighted, public libraries guarantee access to knowledge for everyone. When people think about public libraries they usually think of books, but books are only one way that today’s public libraries guarantee that people can access knowledge and learning.

The United Kingdom has an excellent public library network. However, central government has cut the money it gives to Local Authorities and forbidden them to raise council tax (property tax paid to local authorities). Many local authorities see cutting both the number of libraries and library services in those that remain as a painless way to cut expenditure.

People campaigning against the cuts say cutting libraries and services is a shortsighted policy, which will have unintended effects, especially on the poor, and will eventually cost society and the country dearly. UK central and local government has forgotten the important role that libraries play in guaranteeing access to knowledge. They are a learning, knowledge and information gateway that anyone can access.

The government believes that everyone today has access to information and knowledge via the internet however, 33% of UK households in 2009 had no internet access, and 25% of adults have never used the internet. The E-learning Foundation, a digital charity, say (2012) that 1 million children have no access to a computer at home and a further 2 million cannot access the internet from home. Much school homework now requires children to use the internet. Currently children, with n o internet access at home can use the local public library to access the internet and do their homework. When the local public library is round the corner, parents may allow children to go there unaccompanied, but when the nearest library is the other side of town, parents would object to children going there by themselves to do their homework

The library is a familiar part of the community. Adults trying out the internet for the first time would be happier to go there to do so. Not only is the building familiar but local librarians are very helpful and understanding with those unsure how the internet works. Poor people whether adults or children go to the library to access the on line world.

People argue that the internet means that books are obsolete, but anyone can post information on the internet. Internet information is often unreliable and some is downright dangerous. Even reliable internet information may contain insufficient detail for particular purposes.

Despite popular belief, the internet does not contain all human knowledge, book covers contain far more knowledge than the internet. British libraries have an ordering service, where for a small fee, if the library does not stock the book that a reader requires and it is available within the library network, the librarian will order the book and inform the reader when it arrives.

Many are in straightened circumstances due to the economic difficulties. It is difficult enough to find sufficient money for necessities, let alone for extravagances such as books or expensive electronic readers. Library members have access to more books than anyone could possibly afford.

Qualified librarians have a vast amount of training and knowledge and they know books. Librarians can point readers towards obscure books containing the information, facts, knowledge or research they need.

Libraries provide a quiet place for study or just a peaceful place to read and while away time, so very important in a busy world. Overcrowded, deprived homes do not provide room or peace for children to do homework. In many communities, there are good relations between local schools and the librarians and librarians can point children towards the information required for a project or essay.

Libraries lend digital, audio, and digital media. They give people the chance to read all the newspapers and magazines important, when many are searching for jobs in a difficult economy, for example. Many small branch libraries provide a meeting place and hub in communities. UK Libraries provide local information to the communities they serve. The librarian or the library notice board will tell you what is happening in your community. If you want to know about regular or one off events, you will find out at the library. A Library register tells you where and when local groups meet, from the Air Cadets, to the women’s institute and the local history society, another tells you where to find local health services, such as dispensing pharmacists, local Doctors’ surgeries and hospitals, or local religious services.

Local branch libraries now provide community services. One local branch library in Surrey, where there is no village hall or other public building, holds language, computer skills, toddlers’ music, and arts and crafts classes.

Libraries are finding new ways to serve their communities, according to local need. Whatever you want to know you will discover it at the local library, whether you want to use the internet to discover it or to find it in a book, but libraries can also help you to learn how to use a computer, speak French, paint, draw or arrange flowers.

Libraries in the nineteenth century guaranteed that poor people could access books and knowledge, Libraries in the twenty first century, are still portals to knowledge for everyone and they guarantee that whoever you are you can open the door to information, knowledge, learning and help.