As anyone following the fate of UK libraries will know, the judicial review hearing about the planned closure of libraries in Somerset and Gloucestershire finished last Thursday. It may be some weeks before we know the outcome. The review inspired an article by Caitlin Moran in The Times about the library she used when she was a child (which “allowed a girl so poor she didn’t even own a purse to come in twice a day and experience actual magic”). In turn, a little survey here at the TLS reveals, unsurprisingly perhaps, that libraries were an important feature in the childhoods of many of the staff.
The Science and German Literature editor Maren Meinhardt used her local library "compulsively, . . . particularly enjoying taking out stuff I thought would make me look clever, such as Dostoyevsky and James Joyce. Dostoyevsky I was too immature to understand (which of course I didn’t realize at the time), whereas Joyce was a true eye-opener, giving me some sort of an idea how daring and elegant an enterprise literature could be".
The Deputy Editor, the poet Alan Jenkins, went regularly to his local library in East Sheen, which in those days was housed in a collection of pre-fab Nissen huts. He says: "I went through, in no particular order, the Collected Pound and Eliot, Auden, MacNeice, Spender, Stevens, Marianne Moore; and I got into the slim volumes as well – Ian Hamilton’s The Visit; Larkin, The Whitsun Weddings and The North Ship; Ted Hughes, The Hawk in the Rain; Plath’s Ariel; Near the Ocean by Robert Lowell; and – a really big discovery – 77 Dream Songs by John Berryman . . . . They gave me an idea of how a book of poems, though slender, didn’t have to be slight. No one ever seemed to take them out but me. There must have been an enthusiast on the staff who bought them all in, but I felt it was my personal library, and inwardly congratulated the local authorities on having provided it for me".
The Arts and Website editor Lucy Dallas used her library in Halifax so much, and held on to the books so tenaciously, that a librarian was dispatched to her house to collect the accrued fines.
It’s difficult to know how influential personal testimonies are in the fight to keep libraries open, but the Man Booker Prize for Fiction has invested in an evening of them on October 11; three of the shortlisted authors – Carol Birch, Stephen Kelman and A.D. Miller – will speak.
Another of them, Julian Barnes, has already said of his own experience: “Like most writers of my generation, I grew up with the weekly exchange of library books, and took their pleasures and treasures for granted. The cost of our free public library system is small, its value immense. To diminish and dismantle it would be a kind of national self-mutilation, as stupid as it would be wicked”.
Perhaps the nominees will have something to say in response to the Oxfordshire local authority leader Keith Mitchell, who complained in an article published yesterday about “largely well-heeled worthies" – including the writers Philip Pullman and Colin Dexter – who "refused to accept that reducing library cuts would add to the cuts to other services”. . . .