Libraries – and an elephant called Google

High passions and occasional dottiness are never far away when public libraries are under discussion. Earlier in the year, I wrote a light-hearted blog which induced an attack of the vapours in Ed Vaizey, the shadow Culture Secretary.

Vaizey is now the Mr Big of libraries in the government, and his department has recently released a document called “The Future Libraries Programme”. Writing in the Independent last week, I suggested that one did not have to look too far into what was being proposed to see that, behind the warm words about the Big Society, a stealthy privatisation of the library service was being considered.

There was a lively exchange on the Independent message-board, one thread of which completely mystified me. The article had been written as if the internet had never been invented, complained one reader. The computer revolution was – altogether now – the elephant in the room.

Weird. In a piece on libraries I could indeed have mentioned what another reader called “Google and all his cohorts”. I could also have explored the DVD versus books question, whether quietness is commendable in libraries, the coffee shop debate, how populist library books should be, the decline in book stock, censorship of children’s titles, whether authors should be paid for visits, etc etc. A whole herd of elephants are in the library.

In my 700 word piece, I simply made the point that the government may be trying to wriggle out of its responsibilities to publicly available learning and reading, and that this was a serious matter.

Why the obsession with Google and his cohorts? Does every argument have to revolve around the new technology? If anything, the great computer revolution makes the availability of books, particularly to children and particularly in economically deprived areas, more important than ever.