Interview with Jill, a PR worker, regular library user (Sheffield Central) and fan of books, music and film.
- Have you always used the library?
Yeah. It’s probably been the last four or five years that I’ve really got into it. It was a friend who said they’d watched something on the telly and went and got the whole box set out. A whole TV series for a quid, that’s right there in the city centre, and it’s supporting local services. I think some people think they won’t have the latest things, but they do. Like with that [points to The Big Bang Theory box set] – I wouldn’t have bought that, because I didn’t know if I was going to like it. But the fact that I could go and get it for a quid meant that I might as well give it a go. And that’s meant that I’ve watched a lot of films and television series that I wouldn’t have bothered with if I’d had to buy them outright.
- What do you value most about the library?
It’s mainly the service, but I have to say a lot of the librarians have been really great. When I got the first series of The Big Bang Theory out, one librarian said “oh, I love this”, and then when I got this series another said “it’s great… until series 6” – so it’s the fact that they give their opinions as well. There was one lad in there, I’d gone to get a film out and he gave loads of recommendations. That’s something that I really value. I really don’t like the machines; I’d much rather go to a person.
Also, if you’re meeting someone and they’re late, it’s nice to know you can nip in there and read the papers. People assume everybody’s got a smartphone – and yes, I do, and I have a laptop. But I want these things to be there for people who haven’t. And it’s always busy. There’s always people on the computers. When I went in the other day I wondered why there was nobody at the desk and then I saw the librarian helping my neighbour at a computer. She has a computer at home, but she needed to do a certain thing and she knew the librarian could help her do that. That’s not something you can get just by messing about on your phone.
- Are you happy for libraries to change?
The idea that a library is just a room full of books – that’s not the case anymore. Because of the sense of community, because of the knowledge of the librarians, because of the computer access, because of the film and music. They’ve got the little coffee place [at the Central Library], I’ve heard of other places maybe opening a little bar as well. I think that’d be really good. Then people are going to bump into people they know, spend more time there. Everything has to evolve. And if that means the room full of books can stay open, that’s great as far as I’m concerned.
- What are your memories of libraries when you were younger?
I was a library prefect at school – I really loved it! I was a big reader. I was really into Enid Blyton and then Judy Blume. I’m sure our school wouldn’t let us get Forever by Judy Blume out because we were too young – we all waited in the library until the librarian left and got it out and sat giggling. I remember first going to the library with my mum, when I got my first library card, and it was like “wow”. It was a really big deal. I guess when you’re a kid you don’t have much control over anything and then someone says you can pick whatever you want to read.
It’s still a massive part of my life. I can’t imagine the library not being there. It’s such an important part of a civilised society. The idea that you can go along and get knowledge or escapism or entertainment for free or for very little is something to be cherished. We should be proud to say “you don’t have to be wealthy to have this”. Somebody on Twitter, a journalist or a comedian, Tweeted something a while back, like George Osbourne isn’t concerned about his nearest library closing because it’s in the east wing of his house. That sums it up for me. Even if I didn’t go along and use my library, the idea that other people couldn’t, I find really upsetting. I really, really value them – for myself, and for the community as a whole. Somebody who thinks “I don’t see why I should pay taxes to fund a library because I don’t use it” – that mentality is so far away from mine. Once a library closes, the chances of it opening again are pretty slim.
- What are your thoughts on volunteer-run libraries?
It’s a tricky one. If it keeps them open, okay. But a librarian has so much knowledge. Even the best-willed volunteer in the world – you can’t replace years and years of knowledge. You wouldn’t say “tell you what, let’s close this bank and we’ll have volunteers run that” (though they’d probably do a better job!) I’m happy to have libraries that have some full-time staff and are helped by volunteers, but the idea that they’re entirely volunteer-run says to me that librarians will be devalued and won’t be seen as worthy to society. My library’s okay, but what about the remote one that’s the only reason an old person leaves the house once a week, to take books back and to maybe grab a coffee with somebody? And if that library’s gone, because it’s not profitable enough – that’s awful.