The importance of having libraries within a community and how they bring us together.
A library is a community’s window to culture and a free space to gather information that doesn’t necessarily come in the form of books.
I remember my first experience of a library... I didn't want to go. My mum forced me on one her rare afternoons-off during half-term break. “Find a book you want to take home, anything you want.” Mum went to the history section and picked out another book she could fall in love with; dreaming about Lawrence of Arabia. My brother was too young to read, but he loved the wooden train set. Mum chatted to the other mums and the librarians, maybe about Laurence, but probably about school stuff she had missed. She held our books whilst we played on the swings outside, then we went home and read them together. From then on, the library was a place the three of us went to read, be together and imagine.
25 years on, I'm a millennial and my local library is closed more than it's open.
Millennials use public libraries more than any other demographic. Research shows that 23% of people do not have the internet at home and they use libraries for access to information, internet facilities and services they may not themselves be able to afford. As well as using them as a free day out, they can borrow instead of buy books for their children to read.
The number of purchased books has gone up by 20% and whilst plenty of money is spent on outdated practices and unnecessary admin in libraries, only 9% of the funding budget went on updating their collections. But, more people visited libraries in 2016 than theatres, cinemas, live gigs and the top ten tourist attractions in the UK, combined. They may not always come for the books, but they see the value in the spaces and the access to knowledge that libraries provide.
Costa and Starbucks have spent millions researching how to make people stay for longer than one coffee. They did this by turning their shops into a place that people want to socialise and work from. So much so, it's socially acceptable to have meetings and run book clubs from a Costa now whilst paying £4 for a mediocre coffee. If the trend of Hygge taught us one thing over the last couple of years, it's that human beings are engineered to prefer warm and pleasing environments with other people.
We know adapting libraries to 21st century needs, works – it’s been proven. Central libraries in city centres offer more than just book borrowing; the centralisation of resources to city centre libraries would explain the increase in millennials using them, and the decreased use from the baby boomers. As people get older they find it more challenging to venture into city centres to access services, and it's the same for the unemployed or people on low income. Knowledge shouldn’t only be available to those who can afford to travel.
Local libraries play a vital role in combating social isolation; older people don't just go to computer clubs to learn how to write an email, it's as much about the social aspect as it is about the knowledge. With funding to other community projects being cut every day, a library is a service that can offer multiple channels of community participation.
A forward-thinking library is a social space and provides alternative services to the public; they’re a place that young and old come together to trade ideas and crafts. A place people can meet and gather knowledge. They don’t even have to remain in the same space all the time, like travelling libraries or book swapping spots.
Much like libraries The Mystery Literary Festival has been created to encourage people to connect and socialise through the love of literature. Whether you are new to mystery literature, new to literature entirely or have been swept up in a love affair with mystery all your life, this festival has something for everyone. Come and let your imagination run wild.
The Mystery Literary Festival takes place in Liverpool on 22 & 23 September 2018. For more information, sign up to our newsletter.