Sep 20, 2008

Lifestyle - For UK libraries silence is no longer golden

Patrons will now be able to talk to each other as well as on mobile phones

LONDON: Libraries have been the haven of silence where the studious can retire to for serious learning in a quiet environment. Some public libraries in London however are changing their look in order to get more people through their doors.

Library patrons will now be able to talk to each other as well as on mobile phones, bring food and drink into the premises, play on computer games and watch football matches. The Society of Chief Librarians have decided it is time that libraries changed with the times otherwise they will simply die out.

The number of books borrowed from libraries across Britain in the last 10 years has fallen by 34% and 40 libraries closed down last year. The Borough of Hillingdon in West London ran a pilot programme of allowing a popular coffee shop into one of their main libraries. They found their book borrowing rose by 32 %. Hillingdon is introducing a coffee shop into all 17 of its libraries by next year.

The Borough of Camden, in North London is following in their footsteps. “It is all about improving the atmosphere of the libraries into a more relaxed space that people can feel comfortable in,” said Mike Clarke, head of libraries at Camden.

“We don’t want anybody to bring in greasy fish and chips and spill it over 15th century books. Nor do we want them coming somewhere where they can’t eat, drink or talk at all,” said Tony Durcan, president of the Society of Chief Librarians.

Critics complain that it will destroy libraries as sanctuaries for the mind. “Giving people what they have in internet cafes is not going to bring in lost book borrowers,” said Kate Muir, novelist. “Give kids the space and silence to be bored until they are inspired, and take out the intravenous computer drip and the attempt at popularisation shows a “lack of imagination from those who are supposed to be the last guardians of imagination,” she suggested.

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