Sunday, 20 February 2011

Libraries as Refuge

Cuts to public services are everywhere you look, despite, as you've no doubt heard, huge corporations like Vodafone slinking out of paying their taxes. Many persuasive arguments have been put forward to save elements of our social infrastructure currently sat under the sword, most prominently, Phillip Pullman's much-read and much-lauded speech about saving libraries.

In the wake of numerous excellent polemics on why libraries are not a luxury or an unsustainable drain on resources, I thought I'd stick my oar in. Libraries are a refuge. You don't have to pay to sit in them, as in a cafe. You can stay till closing time, undisturbed. It's quiet, it's your own space and being in such a space, surrounded by possibility and interesting sources, allows people to set aside time to relax and improve their knowledge, use the internet or simply be entertained in a more interactive manner than just switching on TV repeats.

Public library cuts are in the news a great deal, but not so much the cuts to school libraries. This is horrendous for a number of reasons; I just want to address one. For anyone who has ever been bullied in school, who has constantly eaten lunch alone, who has struggled to find privacy, afraid of seeing a group of their tormentors round the corner in front of them, libraries represent a sanctuary where they can spend time without interruption, reading, checking emails or just thinking. Instead of hiding, they can sit in a warm, inviting place, secure in the knowledge that this time is theirs and nobody can hurt them here.

I'm not saying this is a solution to bullying - there is no easy solution - but with the rate of victimisation among school-age children ( tells us that in the UK at least 16 children kill themselves each year because they are being bullied at school and no-one in authority is doing anything about it), hard times in your teens can feel like they're going to go on forever, and are insurmountable. US-based charity It Gets Better, which addresses teen suicide, particularly among young LGBT people, bases its campaigns on the idea of hanging in there, reinforcing the idea that there's a wider world outside the savage ecosystem of secondary school and a place for everyone in it. A really important sentiment, but sometimes a little help is needed to hang in there when it all gets a bit relentless.

Libraries can do a little bit towards this goal, providing respite and helping kids - nerdy, awkward, different, lonely, or just picked on for the sake of it - get through what can be one of the most challenging times of their lives.


mounen said...

nice 'outburst' :)

K said...

Thanks Mounen!