Friday, 3 December 2010

Who uses libraries?

People who are poor.
People who are rich
and people in the middle, squeezed or not

People without computers, who don't know what the internet is,
People with laptops and wiis and Playstations and ipods.
People without homes.
People with second homes.
People without many books.
People with shelves overspilling.
People with lots of time and
too little time
with not much quiet
or too much quiet.
People whose homes are chilly
and lonely
and dull.

Parents and carers and babies and toddlers.
Children who don't know what books are.
Children, magically turning letters into words and words into stories.
Children who want to read every book a particular author ever wrote. Because she wrote it just for them.
Or there's just one book they read again and again and again.
(I still remember my special book, the one that I read week after week after week, till it became part of who I am now and then and forever)

Children and adults who don't find it easy to learn by jumping
from website to website.
Children who want to find out what and why and how and when and who.
And read the ideas of others for real...
not bite-sized and  bullet-pointed on websites and worksheets.
Teenagers with homework to do
Teenagers with nothing to do
Teenagers whose home is empty
Teenagers with no home at all

People who like to browse among books
People who like to discover new writers. Even if those writers were new years ago.
People who want the latest must-read best-selling hit.
Dan Brown, Jacqueline Wilson, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
People who want something else
Something obscure and unpopular and - gasp - uncommercial.
People who don't like Horrid Henry
or horror
or Horowitz, and who don't find much else
 in WH Smith.

People who hate vampires, werewolves and angels
People who dream
of a dark, dangerous stranger
with a loving, tortured soul
a strange, sweet scent
and gleaming, pointed, uncontrollable

People who don't trust the internet
Who don't have a kindle, an iphone, an ipad.
Who like the feel and smell of a book, the print on the page, the pages turning
the pictures glowing.
People who want help
and advice
and recommendations from experts
(not volunteers, however well-meaning)
and company,
and education
and someone to notice that they're alive that day. Everyday.
Writing groups and
reading groups and
story-telling sessions and
slimming clubs and
visiting authors and
community noticeboards offering music and cleaning and clubs and anything you need.

Writers who can't work in a cafe, even though J K Rowling did.
Writers without a Room of their Own.
People who like to think.

Labour voters and
Conservative voters
Liberal Democrats
and people who don't know who the hell to vote for
 because they're all as bad as each other.

People with a sense
of history
and the future,
of community
of a shared culture
of equality and opportunity hand in hand
of a Big-hearted Society -
where a homeless kid has the same access
to books and warmth, internet  and silence as they do at
(just a random comparison there).
People who complain and mutter and might write a letter or two,
but don't riot.
Not about libraries.
Not about books.

But then there are
Government ministers who won't protect libraries
and local councillors trying to cut budgets
Because budgets are easier to cut than bankers' bonuses. And it's getting a bit fuzzy, isn't it? About who was to blame. For the mess we're all in together.
That's all of us.
But especially some of us.

And those who think that libraries are a soft target
and out-dated
and unpopular
and could easily be run by volunteers
 - because, after all, there will be lots of people with time on their hands -
 - not to mention the workshy -
 -  and the fake disabled, don't forget them.

And  after all, libraries don't need to buy more books
because everything's available on the internet
and books are so cheap nowadays
and  how much do you have to pay to rent books from a library anyway?
and where is the local library?
and why isn't it open when I need it to be open?
and why are there so few books?
and isn't it disgraceful how children leave school unable to read?
What they need are Phonics and Literacy and Extracts and
testing testing testing
testing testing testing
because the economy demands literate workers
who've studied relevant subjects
so they can earn money and pay
graduate taxes
because that's what  Britain needs
Isn't it?

This is happening now.
Libraries are being closed and cut
Librarians are being sacked
In shires and cities and towns

If we allow it.

For more information  see here  and here  and most importantly Alan Gibbons' Campaign for the Book here


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you - this is amazing and totally wonderful! I am a librarian who wouldn't be here without libraries and what they did for my grandfather, mother and eventually me. Will pass this on to all I can X

  2. Nice poem and sadly too true. List of proposed library closures (around 250 so far) and other cuts at

  3. Having now blogged about this myself (sticking my oar in as a mother and a teacher), I've included a link to your post (as well as a few others); I hope that's ok.

  4. It was great to see this poem about public libraries and the situation they're facing at the moment. I helped set up a national campaign called Voices For The Library, which you may be interested in. It echoes a lot of your thoughts. The website is

    Thanks - Gary

  5. Thanks everyone! How nice to see new names in the comments box..
    Feel free to share this as much as you want, Gary, going to have a look at your website.

  6. It is a problem Downunder too - and I have grouched about it on my blog today but not nearly as well as this!

  7. Thanks, Keren. Hope everyone's signing Alan Gibbons' letter (check out link, above). Gary, I'll try and contact you about your campaign over the weekend as we're trying to do something too,
    Clare (Juliet Clare Bell)

  8. Am loving this written groundswell - perfectly put Keren.

  9. Brilliant, beautiful, sad, infuriating and many other things. Thanks, Keren.

  10. Brilliant poem, Keren! True and heart-felt. I'll spread it around.

  11. Thanks everyone.I've been tinkering with it a bit - it's a work in progress- please feel free to share it around.

  12. I,too am going to pass your brilliant words on to friends and family.

  13. I found the poem very interesting. I am a retired librarian and find the closure of libraries extremely worrying. I have passed on your words to two former colleagues.

  14. Knock out! I'm going to link this to my blog, if I may, and send it to Alan Gibbons Campaign for the Book. The more of us who fight these cuts with words, the more notice the government will take.
    Helena Pielichaty

  15. Well put and a sentiment well-expressed.

  16. Absolutely brilliant. We should send a copy to all those disconnected politicians who have no interest at all in the absolutely vital role libraries play in the community.

  17. You are right - everyone uses libraries! I used to stretch my library card to the limit each week as a child (couldn't believe there was a limit to how many you could take out). Hope you can save your libraries!

  18. Long years ago,like Jan, I well remember the feeling of utter frustration at being allowed to borrow only - I think - four fiction and three non-fiction books at any one time. In those days the children's library was just a small corner of the main library. Complete silence was demanded, and strictly enforced. Despite this the Library was still my favourite place - a haven of peace and tranquility among books, lots of books, much better than any seaside holiday.

    Keren's poem sends out a very powerful message, and I will be sending copies to our local Councillors and to our MP. I would like them to to take a few minutes to read it and to think very carefully about the vicious cuts they are making to our precious and vital library service.

  19. I've recently started working for Leicestershire Library Services. We're lucky, we have a County Council who really see the value of a library service, but we're still facing cuts.

    This heart-felt piece really articulates the perilous state of libraries in the UK - and how collective amnesia has set in regarding the real cause of our society's problems: greed enabled through unbridled capitalism.

    Thanks for writing this.

  20. Fantastic - sums up all the things that libraries do - politicians take note. Perhaps they should try doing without the House of Commons library as 'everything is on the Internet'. Where would their researchers go then?
    Jenny Horler

  21. Wonderful! Like many other posts here I wouldn't be here without, they retained my sanity from childhood and still do. That's why I became a librarian many years ago.

  22. Thank you for this wonderful poem. I am a school librarian and I am fighting to keep libraries in schools open, for all the reasons you mention. I have a website which is all about what school libraries do, and I will link to your fabulous poem from there, if I may. Http://

  23. Please do, I am so happy for people to share this poem, thanks everyone for your comments.

  24. This is brilliant! I can use this as part of our campaign to save school librarians in East Ayrshire. Thank you, Keren.

    Stephen King

  25. Spot on, absolutely spot on.

  26. We may - with your permission - "lift" a section of your wonderful poem into our film that we are making on SAVING OUR LIBRARIES. We're professional filmmakers based in Somerset - doing this pro bono - and have been shooting in Somerset and London all this week. The final edit will be a mix of all-comers and the "recognizable" (Jon Snow, Julian Fellowes, Big Issue founder John Bird, Kate Mosse etc) and we will upload it to YouTube and The Guardian website has asked to host it (and we are still intending to attract other hosts and have been in touch with leading commercial viral marketing companies).
    We're also trying to raise funds for a special launch event around the 1st-2nd February (that I guarantee will attract national media attention!).
    Would you be kind enough to let me know if it is okay to use a short section of your poem please?
    Kind regards
    Garfield Kennedy

  27. Came across your wonderful poem via the Save Our Libraries video - see comment above - and have blogged about it today.

  28. Thanks - this poem has taken on a life of its own!

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  30. Brilliant - keep campaigninig!