In praise of libraries
Here's a thoughtful and passionate piece about the symbolic value of libraries in the BBC's Point of View column. Gudrun and I saw a couple of gorgeous early libraries a couple of weeks ago in Dublin (Trinity College, and Marsh's Library); both of us were deeply moved, as there is a very visceral beauty in seeing and smelling the sum of human knowledge so enshrined. You just don't get that with a Kindle. In Leicester, the beautiful Central Library building on Belvoir Street (originally built as a Baptist Church in 1845) is closing over Christmas, both jobs and books are disappearing as a result, and with them, opportunities for self-improvement and sheer pleasure. I'm afraid that the social project that saw the increase in public access to literacy and printed resources is disappearing for good. Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating for the return of some mythical disappeared Golden Age, but it is clear that the so-called Big Society cannot succeed in a culture where a strong philanthropic tradition based on religious and moral beliefs no longer prevails among the economic elite. When neither the liberal nor conservative rich are interested nor have the resources (thanks to the institution of income tax) to support public resources such as charity schools, lending libraries, social housing, and medical/social care, on the scale that is necessary for innovation but also sustainability, then the government has to step up and do so instead. That is its job and responsibility. Cutting these services isn't an option; I really believe that. There is no personal or economic freedom to be gained from letting these things go.