The Public Library - Are Public Libraries Still Relevant?

The internet has competition. There is another, long neglected source of information available. Like the World Wide Web, it's mostly free and is an excellent source of entertainment and research, but it's been around much longer than any website.

It had been far too long since I'd set foot in my local library. I'd simply lost the habit. Life, as they say, had got in the way. It's one of those things that you don't do unless you make a special effort. So I made that special effort, and I'm extremely glad that I did.

The slightly stuffy atmosphere that I remembered from my youth was gone, replaced by a helpful, friendly ambience. The dark wood shelves and heavy velvet drapes had been replaced too, by a light welcome airiness. Most delightfully, I felt a return of the sense of wonder that visits to the library had always conjured up in my youth. The endless possibilities held within each book was still there, but now they had been joined by computer terminals and data discs which, just like their paper cousins, were filled with everything that an inquisitive mind might desire. The adventure, the horror, the learning of the ages and so much more were still there to be rediscovered by each generation just as I had done all those years ago. More information than any one person could ever hope to learn was held within this building, a living and growing thing available to anyone prepared to make the smallest of efforts.

I was taken aback by the number of different uses that the building has been given over to. Yes, it was predominantly a lending library, but was also an art gallery and a coffee shop. It was a community centre with the obligatory notice board advertising everything from poetry readings and writing classes to jazz and dance festivals. There was even gentle soothing music being piped in from somewhere, though never loud enough to be obtrusive.

The variety of people in the place was impressive too. Middle-aged couples researching their family history, ladies in colourful robes testing their English on each other, families looking for a film to go with a pizza later and old men simply passing the time until the next bus home; all were here, and yet nobody seemed out of place. Like a multi-faith church the public library welcomed all, no questions asked, but with answers for everyone. In my absence it had become the Public's Library.

So the next time I have research questions, or feel like giving some new music a try, or simply fancy reading some escapist fantasy, perhaps I should turn the laptop off. Maybe it's time to rediscover my local library.


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