Monday, 10 January 2011

Spring Releases and Library Cuts

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.



  1. I ran into the same issue at the library I work for when the finalists for the National Book Award were announced here and we only had a couple of them. And just last week Booklist magazine published their best fiction list and we didn't own many of them. When I spoke with our adult fiction librarian about it she said that people don't read the "literary" books any more and that it would be a waste of money to purchase them. On one hand I understand her reasoning, but on the other hand I believe it is our responsibility to provide access to the very best literature being published. At least I can make sure that we buy the best youth literature. (I'm a youth services librarian).
    By the way, I read A Visit From the Good Squad last year and was utterly captivated. A great book!

  2. Anbolyn, the Egan book is there because of a blogger recommendation. The Guardian article was the first reference to it I'd seen in the UK press. I used to face the same problem about literary fiction when I worked full time in the University Sector. The librarians wouldn't buy it because it wasn't a text book. How were my English students expected to value good literature if we 'told' them at every turn that it wasn't worth spending money on.

  3. As a once-was librarian, I despair too. It's devastating to see how little valued they are, and how much people in the new digital world believe that libraries are no longer needed. So wrong on so many counts!

  4. Too true, whisperinggums. If people can no longer afford books then we have to provide a public source. They are not luxuries; they are essentials.

  5. The news about libraries has been very bad indeed. It's frightening. I do like your list of upcoming books. I've been reading similar lists with an attention I don't usually give to forthcoming books. I think I'm in the mood for them. I read The Possessed, and I liked it, although I was hoping for something a little more ... surprising or breathtaking or something like that. But it was still good. And as you know, I loved the Goon Squad book. I'm going to keep my eye out for some of the others!

  6. Dorothy, do I need to know a lot about the Russian novelists to enjoy 'The Possessed' or will I learn from it? I know Tolstoy's work and life, but very little else.