Remember the girl in the Beach Boys’ song Fun Fun Fun? She’s the one who tells her daddy she needs to borrow his car to go to the library, but gives the library a swerve and instead has a ball cruising as fast as she can through town in the T-Bird with the radio blasting, shaking off all the guys who try to catch her. Finally, her daddy gets wise to her tricks and takes back the keys. Fun over.
Every girl deserves her day in the sun, but you know, this one might have got more lasting benefit and pleasure from a visit to the library.
Public libraries offer access to vast areas of knowledge and information, and they offer it to everyone, regardless of social class or financial status.
A report on the future of UK libraries, published this week, says libraries are ‘at a critical point’ and need modernising to meet the changing needs of the public.
Let’s hope this report helps to turn the tide because libraries have a vital role in society. They provide the opportunity to research, learn about, dabble in, explore any subject under the sun.
Through libraries, we can all become part of the sum of human knowledge and experience, and feel humbled by our paltry reach and at the same time exhilarated by the possibilities which open up before us.
The tactile experience of physically handling books, reading intensely, skimming and scanning, noticing the year in which something was written and by whom, making connections and cross-referring is a process which requires a different engagement from the click and collect approach which is often applied to internet ‘research’.
The immeasurable scope and slick accessibility of the web can make us feel we can know everything there is to know, but a few visits to the library make us aware that Donald Rumsfeld was unfairly mocked for his comment about the unknown unknowns.
Wandering through library stacks reveals subjects and areas that we never knew existed, huge blanks in our mental landscape. But hey, now I’m here, I’ll just open that book…
Librarians, the essential people who manage the stores and collections of public knowledge and make them available to us all, are often stereotyped as rather odd, timid and retiring characters who leap into action only when someone transgresses the ‘Quiet’ sign. (Those were the days, when the only noise in a library was the date being stamped on the book’s label.)
There’s a bit of a gender difference here, with male librarians on the whole having the more nuanced fictional presence.
For instance, there’s the complex Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Kingsley Amis’s 1955 novel That Uncertain Feeling (filmed as Only Two Can Play, starring Peter Sellers) has troubled, hapless librarian John Lewis at the centre of a richly comic satirical look at marriage, infidelity, pretensions, pomposity, social climbing and the nature of contentment.
And how about the magnificent Library Cop who tracks down Jerry Seinfeld for the return of a book due back in 1971? Like a noir incarnation of a cop from Dragnet, he delivers his tough-guy monologue on that year’s political unrest: ‘Bad year for libraries. Bad year for America. Hippies burning library cards…’
What were you thinking of, My Morning Jacket? Their song Librarian hymns the ‘simple little bookworm’ who underneath is ‘the sexiest librarian’ who he asks to ‘take off those glasses and let your hair down for me’. I mean, boys, that’s not good, not even ironically… although it must be said that librarian Thelma in the UK TV sitcom Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, with her bossiness, her striving upward mobility and her anxious respectability would slap down any such approaches good and proper.
Many of us owe our broad education and our life-long love of reading and learning to the local libraries which were part of our growing-up. They are a mark of a civilised, inclusive, cultured community, and should be celebrated and protected.
And the best Christmas or birthday gift to give to a young fun-loving gal (or guy)? A library card. Your daddy can’t reclaim the keys to that.
The Library Campaign does valuable lobbying work on behalf of public libraries throughout the UK. Join the campaign and follow the latest library news at The Library Campaign.