Leading article: An enduring Victorian value

Share

Stef Penney has just won the Costa Book of the Year prize for a first novel about Canada, having never visited the country. An agoraphobic, she did all her research, she said, in the British Library. Which should say all that needs to be said about British libraries in general, and the British Library in particular.

Only it isn't all that needs to be said. The British Library is now facing a cut of 7 per cent in its annual £100m budget and is considering introducing charges and shorter hours to pay for it. Across the country local libraries are also feeling the squeeze, cutting staff and book purchases. What was once one of the glories of Victorian philanthropy, and that particular Victorian passion to make the fruits of learning available to every class, is now being treated as a remnant from the past, a residual of other, more important cultural and sports policies. Indeed the cuts to the British Library's budget are being directly attributed to the growing cost of the Olympics. The elite arts must make room for more popular pastimes.

This is quite the wrong way of looking at the problem. Inevitably at a time of pinched public expenditure, choices must be made. But you can't treat libraries, and in particular the British Library, as a simple arts expenditure. The point of the institution is that it is a repository of knowledge, of equal use to scientists as to writers and historians, a resource that anyone with a valid reason can access. And the same is true in a different way with the local library, where any member of the public can seek the relevant book and take it home.

Now it is perfectly true that the internet has revolutionised the way in which we can access knowledge and the amount of information readily available to anyone with the necessary equipment. For the specific search and the generalised scan, the internet far surpasses the library in the speed and efficiency of the operation. Microsoft's project to digitalise the British Library's out-of-copyright works, and Google's Book Search programme, are examples of the drive to make knowledge freely available to all. In another 10 or 20 years it will be possible to search on the internet virtually every book published in whatever language.

But it is precisely because of this that we need to preserve libraries to make sure that the books have a home and that those who wish to handle, to read and to develop knowledge from the page can do so. This is not some hobby of the rich. Just look at the latest figures of library-lending by Public Lending Right. It is the popular authors that dominate, but also the children's books. So long as knowledge and stories are put into written form, the libraries will have a place. They're the last things that should be cut as the iron bonds of public expenditure are tightened.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A picture posted by Lubitz to Facebook in February 2013  

Andreas Lubitz: Knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 enabled mass murder

Simon Calder
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, presides at the reinterment of Richard III yesterday  

Richard III: We Leicester folk have one question: how much did it all cost?

Sean O’Grady
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss