2019 marks a hundred years since the 1919 Public Libraries Act paved the way for modern libraries to come into existence across the country. However, a century on, you might find that your local library is in danger. In 2018, 127 libraries closed in the UK, with many more hanging on by their fingernails.
With austerity biting, a number of councils have decided that their library service is just too expensive to maintain. These community hubs have been sacrificed nationwide as authorities look to free up cash for other areas.
But this is so shortsighted. Your local library is a meeting place for people of all ages, cultures, religions and classes. It provides internet access to those who don’t have it, the daily news for those who want to keep up to date, opportunities to learn new things or lose yourself in an adventure, and not to mention a place for freelance writers like me to work, away from the distractions of my children, the telly and, in the interests of my waistline, the fridge. Your local library is also a parenting saviour, and here are five ways that it can help you out.
Free Children’s Books
As a parent, you can plough through children’s stories at a rate of knots. Tastes change as they grow and it would be particularly expensive if you attempted to buy each new story at the full retail price. At your local library, you don’t have to worry about this. Everything is completely free of charge (you don’t even receive a fine if a children’s book is overdue). This means that you can keep up with their whims without taking a hit to the wallet.
You can also test out new authors, styles and themes. If you find something that your child adores at your local library, you can always go out and buy your own copy to keep forever. Or at least until they decide they’re bored of dinosaurs and only want to read about princesses from now on.
Cheap Children’s Books
Libraries go through a process of ‘weeding’. This essentially involves them retiring books from their displays in order to make room for new titles. If you want to know more, there’s an interesting episode of the uber-geeky 99% Invisible podcast about it. However, you don’t need to know the ins and outs to understand that the upshot of this is that your local library quite often sells off its old books at a bargain price.
This is a great way to build up a cache of kids’ books you can keep for the cost of the loose change you’ll find down the back of your sofa.
As a parent, you’re always looking for ways to keep the kids entertained, and libraries have a real role to play in this. Most local libraries run playgroups, kids’ activities, book talks and more. In addition, they are usually free of charge.
Make sure you check out the activity calendar at your nearest library to find out about craft classes, singing sessions and more. It’s all a long way from the traditional image of the silent, stuffy atmosphere that is only punctuated by a stern librarian’s pointed “shhhhh”.
Quiet Areas For Homework
Having said that, the library is still usually a calm place in which to find yourself. Many kids don’t have a space at home in which to complete their homework or there are too many distractions and, for them, a library is a real oasis. There’s free internet access, all the reference books you will ever need and a desk on which to work. It is a place where school children can really concentrate on the tasks at hand after school.
Early Childhood Brain Development
Studies have shown that even just being in a library environment can aid early childhood brain development in the under-threes. Witnessing the positive effects of activities like talking, reading, singing and playing can encourage infants and toddlers to take part themselves. These are all experiences that help build connections in the brain and are of huge benefit in the future.
Check Out Your Local Library Today
If you don’t make use of your local library, this year is the year to start. Make a point of celebrating a hundred years of modern libraries by checking out what’s going on near you.
I live in Burley-in-Wharfedale in West Yorkshire and our library was under threat after Bradford Council pulled its funding. Thankfully, local volunteers fought to keep it open and the Parish Council now oversees the facility. It is run by the community, for the community and there is so much happening. You find people from all walks of life mingling together and using the library for all manner of different purposes. They even open on Christmas Day to give those who live alone the chance to spend a couple of hours in the company of others.
Libraries are so important for parents, the less well off, the elderly and everyone in between. Yes, no one is going to die if they close a library like they might if they closed a doctors’ surgery, but that doesn’t mean that libraries should be seen as disposable. The good that they do for the people they serve in an array of different ways should be underestimated at your peril.
Use your local library.