libraries, a non-essential service?

i was sad to read lost in ephemera’s post on austerity measures resulting in library closures.

i am blessed to live in a country where books and reading are still highly regarded. we take our libraries fairly seriously here, which is why there was intense debate sparked off by the withdrawal of ‘and tango makes three’, leading to the #freemylibrary social media campaign.

i think about my time as an exchange student in the UK, and the good times i spent in the libraries there, and to be honest, as much as i enjoyed using the space and resources, i am not surprised that many of them are deemed non-essential and cut.

i spent half a year in hull, during which i used the university library for research and writing assignments, and the hull central library for leisure reading. every time i was at the central library, i could count with the fingers on my hands every person in there, and sometimes have fingers to spare.

things were slightly better in London. i studied at queen mary’s, and visited the bethnal green library at least monthly (i liked the walk through the park), and the kilburn library up in queen’s park on the weekends, where my church is. these were decently populated – probably helps that these libraries are located near residential areas. i was frequently the youngest person by far in the library though – the rest seemed like retirees, except for the one or two teenagers using the computer terminals (and they probably don’t even need that service now, what with tablets and smartphones)

book selection and facilities-wise, no offence, but the Singapore libraries trump the above libraries by far. i know i was disappointed the first time i stepped into a public library in the UK, and perhaps other young people felt the same and never returned.

what accounts for the difference? even as the UK and US public libraries are being shut, the Singapore government was/is pumping money into our libraries. the 2013 budget allocated SGD364 million (approx usd 290 million)  to the national library board (nlb) through the ministry of communication and information (mci) for knowledge acquisition and media literacy initiatives.

the libraries are built to be hip and inviting – i frequently have to wait for a seat to work/read at the central library@bugis and at my neighbourhood library. many libraries have an impressive catalogue, with a special focus on graphic novels in recent years in order to draw young people in. books are brought in regularly and one may even recommend books.

it looks to me a sad vicious circle. the city councils deem their libraries to be non-essential, and i cannot fault them, for the libraries are indeed under-used. their budget is cut, leaving them without sufficient funds to refresh the library and bring in better books that youth might actually want to read, and the dwindling number of library users makes it seem prudent to cut libraries in order to better pool resources.

singaporeans are now enjoying the benefits of our libraries; i hope they will not go down the same route as the great literature power-houses too soon.

(see what Singapore’s central library looks like here!)

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One Response to libraries, a non-essential service?

  1. cegosasiapacific says:

    With easy access to electronic book readers and tablets, readers have forgotten the old world charm of visiting public libraries and reading to their heart’s content surrounded by arrays and arrays of books. With more and more libraries witnessing fewer footfalls, it makes sense to cut back on them. However, it presents a serious jolt to regular library visitors.

    Like

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