In a recent Irish Times article, I read that library staff voted against co-operating with the new government initiative of ‘staffless’ libraries. Many authors have come out against the scheme and at first, I thought I agreed, but having considered the benefits, now I’m not so sure.
The other day, I was in town and thought, ooh, I wonder if they have that new book in I’ve been looking for. I threw my full weight against the door, assuming it was open, but my unstoppable force met an immovable object. This was 11:30 am. Galway City Library doesn’t open until 2pm on a Monday.
Here’s the timetable:
|Monday||2.00pm to 5.00pm|
|Tuesday||11.00am to 8.00pm*|
|Wednesday||11.00am to 8.00pm*|
|Thursday||11.00am to 8.00pm*|
|Friday||11.00am to 5.00pm|
|Saturday||11.00am to 5.00pm|
Now, I have to say it’s great that they stay open until 8:oo pm on three evenings, but wouldn’t it be great to pop into the library on a Sunday afternoon? Or what if you want a quiet place to read/write/study on a Monday morning? What if your idea of the perfect Saturday night is to spend a few quiet hours searching the spines of the non-fiction supernatural section of your local library? (Sounds like the perfect meet cute if you ask me!) We have become so accustomed to having unlimited access to things, so why not libraries? As I see it (and I am prepared to be corrected on this) staff would still continue to work their regular hours, however patrons could use a key code to access the library out of hours. The fear seems to be that this initiative would eventually make their jobs obsolete, but I’m not sure that necessarily follows. I recall the same reaction to the introduction self-service checkouts, but did they actually replace people? I don’t think so, they just gave customers another option. I still prefer to deal with an actual person, but sometimes convenience wins the day.
The fact is that libraries need to adapt in order to remain relevant in a world where life online seems to be taking over. So rather than hold fast to the way things have always been done out of fear of the unknown and change, I think we should embrace it and allow our public spaces to evolve. Public libraries are just that – PUBLIC. They are public spaces that should be open to the communities they serve. If staffless libraries are an extension of library services, rather than a replacement, then I fully support them. To be honest, I’m pleasantly surprised that our government is trying to encourage people to make more use of the library, rather than announcing a raft of library closures. I understand that staff members are concerned about what this might mean for their jobs in the future, and maybe I’m being naive here, but I don’t see how keeping the doors open (in a manner of speaking) after they leave for the day, will threaten their livelihoods. Librarians do a lot more work than simply checking out your latest Liane Moriarty, and I have no doubt that this work will continue regardless.
My main concern would be one of security. I suppose, as a woman, I would have reservations about entering an unmanned (or unwomanned?) building with a locked door. Then again, I’m not sure how many black-belt librarians there are, even if trouble broke out during normal business hours. I guess it’s something that needs to be looked at, but it does seem to be proving a success in Scandanavian countries, the part of the world we all seem to be looking to nowadays for hygge, furniture and crime novels.
It’s a controversial idea and people have very polarised views on the subject. It’s quite similar to the mass hysteria that greeted the arrival of eBooks. People lamented the death of the book as we know it, but as it turned out, nothing could have been further from the truth. Yes, it shook things up a bit, but the fact is that bookshops still exist, readers still read paperbacks and best of all, readers have a choice that they didn’t have before. eBooks and eReaders have got more people reading, which is what really matters, in my opinion. I recently joined an online bookclub and it soon became clear to me that the vast majority of members hardly ever visited their local library. People seemed clueless about BorrowBox and the eBook lending scheme that has been running for quite some time now. For some, it was almost a revelation that you could read books for free! I think we need to encourage people back to the library and this scheme might do just that.
I have read the most wonderful testimonies from people who have a very good relationship with their local librarian, but for me, it’s all about the space. A library is one of the most sacred spaces we have in our towns and cities, where anyone, from any social background, can enter for free and spend as long as they like nourishing their mind and their soul in the company of books. It’s one of the last escapes that exist; a quiet and special place, where you are not expected to do anything, be anything or buy anything and I really believe that increased access to such an amenity can only be a good thing for society.
Meanwhile, you can download both of my novels here: