Over the weekend The Guardian website had two interesting, if not actually complementary, articles. The first was on the books that we can look forward to as the Spring releases become available. I worked through their list jotting down a title here, crossing one off there and eventually came up with my own
Not To Be Missed
By Nightfall ~ Michael Cunningham
We Had It So Good ~ Linda Grant
A Discovery of Witches ~ Deborah Harkness
A Visit from the Goon Squad ~ Jennifer Egan
Anatomy of a Disappearance ~ Hisham Mater
Bracelet of Bones ~ Kevin Crossley-Holland
Bullfighting ~ Roddy Doyle
A Man of Parts ~ David Lodge
The Possessed ~ Elif Bautman
Smut: Two Unseemly Stories ~ Alan Bennett
The Girl in the Polka-Dot Dress ~ Beryl Bainbridge
River of Smoke ~ Amitav Ghosh
Pure ~ Andrew Miller
The Stranger's Child ~ Alan Hollinghurst
On Canaan's Side ~ Sebastian Barry
Having decided what I absolutely could not miss I then went over to the library site to see if they had the January books at least on the catalogue so that I could pre-order them. Not a one! Not a single solitary one. In fact, the only book from the entire list that they had put in an order for was the David Lodge and as he is a local author his omission would have been completely unprecedented.
But, should I have been surprised? The previous week, when the five category winners of the Costa Awards were announced, I went onto the library site then to reserve those. Only three of them were on the catalogue. Now remember, these weren't titles just picked out of thin air. The short lists had been available for some time and the library service could have at least put in an order for the chosen titles, but no.
Now, before any librarians out there get hot under the collar, believe me I'm not blaming you. I know where the fault lies. And that takes me to the other article posted by The Guardian, an article to do with the library cuts being enforced by the Government. Across the country as many as 800 libraries may have to close and 40 in my own area are facing, at the least, severe cut backs in hours and staffing levels. At a time when the majority of people are facing a reduction in their disposable income will someone please explain to me why it makes sense to limit the only access some will have to books?
My own local library is ripe for culling. It is tiny, housed in a space over a hundred years old and not much bigger than my living room. If it is still open in a year's time I will be amazed. But, it has access to a large municipal collection and it serves one of the poorest communities in the area. Half the people who live in the ward don't have cars. Half are one parent families struggling to find enough money to pay for food and fuel. Where are they supposed to get their books?
And yet there is an appetite for reading. When I ran a developing reading project here a couple of years ago not only 200+ children joined in but 40 of their parents as well. And the books they read came through the schools and the library service.
I'm more than happy to do my bit in 'The Big Society' and volunteer to help in the library, but I don't think that will make any difference. The savings the local council have to make are just too great and the clout libraries have just too small. Sometimes I simply despair.