Change is essential if libraries want to survive

Mark Smith:

This week, I will not go to the library.
I did not go to the library last week either, or the week before that. I have not borrowed from a library for 25 years. The one I used as a boy in Aberdeen has been pulled down and is now a field; many more in the city and across the country are threatened with closure. But I’m not upset by any of this; I do not cry over what’s happened or bemoan the end of libraries because they are based on an idea that is no longer working.
The orthodoxy says otherwise – and it’s an orthodoxy delivered with aggressive certainty. Libraries do all kinds of wonderful things, say their supporters: they promote justice, literacy and health, minimise social division and, these days, provide free downloadable books and a coffee and a bun as well. This diversification is presented as the solution to the decline of libraries, but is, in fact, the problem: going into a library now is like going into HMV or Woolies just before it closed. It is a model that is confused and unclear; it no longer knows why it is there. And as for free downloadable books in libraries: like Kindles in Waterstones, that is like inviting a pussy cat into an aviary – the route to certain destruction from within.