The joy of public libraries
When I was growing up in London we would regularly visit the local public library and spend hours choosing and reading books. I loved the high-ceilinged Victorian building, the sense of purposeful calm and order, and the seemingly endless choice of reading material. Partly as a result of this I developed a lifelong love of books and reading.
When I first became a parent in Brighton, having recently moved here, the library was an invaluable resource. The activities available for pre-schoolers at the newly-opened Jubilee Library, particularly Baby Boogie, were a way of combating the isolation of being a new parent. I met other parents there who became lasting and supportive friends. Visiting the library was a great way of getting out of the house with pre-school children on a rainy morning or afternoon, doing something which was free and beneficial to their development, with the added bonus of having the books they had chosen to take home at the end of the visit.
As my children got older, I, with a group of friends, formed a book club which relies on the public library lending us ten copies of each book that we choose to read and discuss. Financially, and environmentally, this works a lot better for the group than each book club member having to buy a copy of the same new book every month. Friends whose children are at the GCSE and A level stage have benefitted from the local library providing a safe and quiet space to study and revise, away from all the distractions of home and noisy younger siblings.
A rich history
The first public library in Brighton opened in 1869 and was housed in the Royal Pavilion, moving to a new purpose-built building, now the Corn Exchange and Dome, in 1871. The library received numerous donations of books from local wealthy benefactors and was quickly expanded, a new extended library opening in 1901. There are now 15 public libraries in Brighton and Hove, spread across the whole city and including Whitehawk toy library.
The city has often celebrated the incredible benefits of our libraries. A report to the former Neighbourhoods, Inclusion, Communities and Equalities Committee (now part of the committee I’m on – Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture), gave a long list. From stronger communities to creative and cultural enrichment in children – it’s clear our libraries are a valued service in our city.
Despite the effects of austerity and the closure of public libraries in other parts of the country, in Brighton and Hove we have managed to keep all our public libraries open. There have been challenges – and Greens have been at the heart of public campaigns to keep them open. Hove Library in particular has been under threat, and we are proud to support the community campaigners who fight to keep it open.
This February, we challenged a proposed cut to library funding in this year’s council budget, managing to find the funds to replace half of the proposed cut in our amendments. This additional funding ensured the library service had more support in the challenging times we face.
We believe that prevention is better than cure – cutting public services costs more economically, and socially, than it will ever save in the short term. It’s this that pushes us to continue to protect our libraries in the city.
Celebrating Libraries Week
I’m proud to celebrate Libraries Week this week and am incredibly pleased to see a packed programme of events in our libraries across the city.
Libraries help to combat the full spectrum of economic, social and environmental issues we currently face, providing free support, social interaction, a safe space and shared resources. Above all libraries provide access to information, potentially motivating the public to come up with their own new ideas which will help to shape our futures.
The programme of events for Libraries Week in Brighton and Hove can be accessed at:
Cllr Clare Rainey is a Green Party councillor in Brighton and Hove and the Opposition Spokesperson on the Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee.
Header image credit: Lydia Liu – Creative Commons