Philip Pullman pulls no punches in his defense of UK libraries
While the US debates the deficit and Greece teeters on the edge of default, the UK is also reeling from proposed cuts to their public services. Austerity is in, and the public sector is taking a major drubbing. Libraries in particular have been a target of budget-conscious legislators.
But UK libraries have something working in their favor: a passionate group of writers vociferously defending the public’s right to libraries. Perhaps one of the fiercest advocates is His Dark Materials trilogy author Philip Pullman.
“Closing libraries is the behaviour of a debased culture,” Pullman told the Telegraph for this story about library closures. “Libraries are not just a source of books. Many of us feel that they symbolise something more, that Britain is a civilised place. And when part of our civilisation is being destroyed, we have to stand up against the barbarians.”
Pullman admitted that he was “apoplectic with rage” over the prospect that as many as 400 libraries could close as a result of budget cuts. He also noted that the people advocating these closures have, at best, a misguided view of the value of libraries:
“This is being done by people who say of libraries ‘oh, they don’t matter now we’ve got the internet’ with a casual brutality. They are not the people who will be hurt by library cuts because they have never had to borrow books. They can afford to buy them. And they have never had to get on a bus, as some councils are suggesting users of closed libraries should, to travel miles to find one that is open.”
Computers, Pullman says, only “give you a keyhole view of the landscape.” And even if this weren’t so, universal access is not the norm. As the story notes, there are as many as one million families with children in the UK without Internet connections.
As the story notes, Pullman has already experienced some small successes with his advocacy. The Oxfordshire County Council was set to close 20 of the 40 libraries in its district but, due to the public backlash, has been forced to table the measure until it’s had a chance to study the matter more thoroughly.
“I think the government is getting very wobbly about the whole question of library closures,” Pullman said. “They had imagined that voters would agree with them that libraries were just luxuries for freeloaders, but the protests around the country have taken them aback. When Alan Bennett came to lend his support to Kensal Rise library [in May], he likened closing libraries to child abuse and was much mocked for the remark. But I understand what he means. And I believe many teachers, parents and children will understand him, too.”