England

Stories from the bookshelves: What does your library mean to you?

"Lost dispiriting places with the reek of missed opportunities" or "places of innovation, spirit and community"?

As the number of libraries in England falls, BBC News looks at some of the experiences of people who love or loathe visiting public libraries.

Sally Ball, Hanham

Image caption Young users of South Gloucestershire's Hanham library put their thoughts into words

I am a mother of two young boys and regular visitor to Hanham library in South Gloucestershire. I have been personally involved in the campaign to stop the proposed library cuts in our area.

I am also a member of award winning Black Sheep Harmony, a female a cappella group from South Gloucestershire. We have produced a song against library cuts.

We have chosen the song's lyrics to show libraries as not only places from which to borrow books but, increasingly, hives of community activity, appealing to different areas of society.

Michael Johns-Perring, Edinburgh

Image caption Michael Johns-Perring - a fan of the Dewey Decimal system

I was one of those cool kids at school that volunteered in the library. When I was a sixth former, some of the teachers thought I was a member of staff - something that granted me staff room privileges.

I was even a fan of libraries before I was a fan of reading. Typically, as a boy, I wasn't much into books. Maybe it is the calming atmosphere of a library that has always appealed to me; after all, a library is also a public study.

I have also always liked order. I was fascinated by the Dewey Decimal system [of categorising books].

I still remember, with fondness, skipping a class in order to put the school library's National Geographic collection in chronological order. Ah, those halcyon days.

Sally Newton, Hemel Hempstead

Image copyright Sally Newton
Image caption Sally Newton was a library fan as a child and has continued to be one

I grew up in Hertfordshire and on Saturdays when I was little my Dad would either take me swimming or to the Hemel Hempstead library. Both pursuits were equally brilliant as far as I was concerned.

I could borrow up to six books a week, and I frequently did.

History, biology, fiction, mythology - anything I liked. I read far more books than I would have had a chance to purchase alone.

Dad still lives in the area and said the library we used to go to isn't even there any more. I am sad that the service libraries provide is being eroded.

Mark, Cheltenham

Image caption Libraries - more life in Night of the Living Dead?

It pains me to have to say it, but public libraries have had their day. They have less life in them than the zombies in the Night of the Living Dead.

Decades of under-investment, poor leadership and fundamental professional disagreements about what libraries are for has wrecked libraries as much as the internet and Amazon.

Too many libraries are beyond redemption. They are lost dispiriting places with the reek of missed opportunities. They have also not been best served by some of their main public supporters. Having authors leading campaigns makes those campaigns look self-serving and they ignore the role modern libraries were supposed to fulfil.

The key test is this: would anyone today be proposing to establish public libraries if they didn't exist?

The simple answer is "no".

Claire Warren, Nottingham

Image copyright Claire Warren
Image caption Claire Warren says libraries are places "of innovation, spirit and community"

I am a qualified and chartered librarian. I find it utterly horrifying that councils have cut services to libraries so fiercely over the past few years, having to rely on volunteers and very little money.

Libraries are so much more than the stagnant, dull and lifeless places that they are sometimes perceived - they are a place of innovation, spirit and community.

I work in schools and see the instrumental impact of a lack of books around children through low literacy levels and children struggling to read.

Libraries need to be protected now, not struggling for survival.

Charlotte Thomas-Collins, Crediton

Image caption Some users find children's books a little too chewed to want to take home

I went in to register my daughter and that was it. They register them at birth now.

The books were filthy and had bits missing, looked chewed and I didn't want them in the house.

The staff were very friendly, though.

Another problem we had is that kids get obsessed with a favourite book and would have a fit if you returned it. They're so cheap on Amazon anyway. Less risky.

Adam, London

Image caption Adam believes local councillors are "disdainful" of services that do not turn a profit

I became a librarian to help people but left the profession because I was tired of making excuses for why we couldn't any more. Mistakenly, I thought my voice would be heard as a campaigner outside the service, but the local council seems only marginally less disdainful of public voices.

The service was being run down long before they started planning closures in the local authority I worked for.

It wasn't just in libraries but across the council, as every service councillors are elected and paid to run are viewed as burdens if they aren't generating income.

Sue Bentley, Northamptonshire

Image copyright Sue Bentley
Image caption Sue Bentley said childhood visits to libraries spurred on her Magic Kitten series

Libraries introduced me to the world of books at a young age.

They shaped my life, broadened my view of the world, and became the spur to a career - I am a successful writer of multi-million selling children's series Magic Kitten.

Literacy is so important in all areas of life. Research shows that children who are read to at an early age do better at school that those who are not. We need our libraries and must fight for them.

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