Deliver us from families, joy and chatter

Secretary of State for culture Andy Burnham is bored of libraries:

People would be able to chat, drink coffee and watch videos in English libraries under a new government proposal, The Independent has learnt. Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture, will today launch a consultation on changing the face of libraries which he believes are out of touch.

Under the proposals, libraries could install coffee franchises, book shops and film centres. Noise bans will also be reviewed. Mr Burnham will tell the Public Library Authorities conference in Liverpool that libraries must ‘look beyond the bookcase and not sleepwalk into the era of the e-book’.

BORING old libraries full of BORING BOOKS! You can’t even USE YOUR PHONE in libraries! YAWN!

Earlier, Mr Burnham that said providing more funding was not realistic in the current climate but added that libraries could still be revamped. He suggested that the traditional ‘silence’ in libraries be reviewed and opening hours extended.

‘Libraries should be a place for families and joy and chatter. The word chatter might strike fear into the heart of traditionalists but libraries should be social places that offer an antidote to the isolation of someone playing on the internet at home.’

Ophelia and Norm have already kicked the shit out of this nonsense – Ophelia, in particular, points out that the word ‘families’ doesn’t always belong anywhere near the word ‘joy’.

I think some of the proposals could be okay. If you’re studying in a uni library for hours, it could be good to be able to get a coffee on the premises – although naturally the outlet would be Starbucks or Costa and I’d like to keep one corner of the world corporate-free. Bookshops might work, although most libraries also sell books. Longer opening hours would be fantastic, although this would require more funding – and as Tim Coates points out, Burnham dodges the issue of how libraries have been underfunded for years.

But all together the proposals add up to a war on silence and solitude. Want to take a book to your local and have a few beers and some cigarettes? No, you can’t do that anymore. How about the local library? I could wander round libraries for hours. Libraries, like pubs, are oases of light and love in what can be a cold, hard world. A place of silence in a world full of the quacking of mobiles and adverts. But you can’t go there anymore. It’s been turned into the Trafford Centre. It’s hard not to get the impression that Burnham is suspicious of solitary enquiry and private space. Solitude is antisocial.

The thing is: this government has a very narrow conception of pleasure, but it’s one it wants to impose upon every area of public life. It’s this drive to make all environments acceptable and safe for what it imagines the community to be. Andy Burnham doesn’t understand that reading and research can be a hell of a lot of fun. Or that shopping centres, theme parks, team games and family-orientated activities can be boring and stupid. I mean, is there any point of having a department of culture other than to administrate funding for the arts? I don’t think there is. Burnham’s intervention isn’t just stupid, it’s a denial of human complexity: it pisses upon the human soul.

Why don’t we make Andy Burnham’s house a public building, put a coffee stand and a Yates’s in his front room, and encourage the public to come round every day with loads of food, drink and mobile phones.

After all, how could Burnham object to ‘families, noise and chatter’?

Update: Great stuff on this from Andrew Brown:

The obvious answer is that [Burnham] is a barbarian who should be employed on his knees scrubbing the steps outside some underfunded public library rather than in any position of authority within it… What is particularly cruel and futile about the Burnham plan is that it destroys the one thing that libraries offer which no amount of internet cafes, Starbucks or even skating can offer: the place where poor students can find the calm they need to try to teach themselves things that are genuinely hard to learn. Middle-class or richer children, or children at good schools, can always find a place to be quiet and study with concentration. But there must be lots of people for whom a library is the only free public space outside a church where you can hope for calm; and the reading matter in church pews tends to be depressingly limited.

One Response to “Deliver us from families, joy and chatter”

  1. In Defence of Isolation « Max Dunbar Says:

    […] what takes it out of you is not just the hours but the people. One thing that came up during the library debate was Ophelia Benson’s contention that silence is expensive, while noise is cheap. A similiar […]

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