West six libraries (and beyond): make the most of them

Welcome new readers and thank you for visiting. I’m starting this blog mainly with my children’s friends in KS2 in mind, although I’d be happy to hear from anyone else interested in the discussion.

Those children are at time of writing aged 9 and 7, and their preferred reading involves any or all of: dragons, tigers, leopards or other big cats (or, failing that, small ones); Daleks and associated lifeforms; superheroes, renegade fairies, teenage spies, boy wizards, wild children – or any combination of the above. Does that sound familiar?

I’m lucky to have a job that lets me bring some of those home on a fairly regular basis (in print form, at any rate – less damaging to the fixtures and fittings); but I can’t hope to keep up with current demand… and that’s where the library comes in.

We can choose between the libraries of several boroughs: all you need to join any library in London is a proof of address (or parents’ address), that’s to say Council tax bill, bank statement, driving licence or similar. Really, not a lot of people know that.

Our nearest library, Hammersmith, is doing its best with slashed budgets and staffing cuts; it is also in some kind of limbo until a planned reorganisation next year. (Meanwhile, it has reluctantly introduced charges and fines on children’s books and audiobook loans – which mount up alarmingly, I can tell you, between the four of us. Fewer books, fewer librarians, but more expensive to use… hmmm.) The plan is to bring together Hammersmith’s library services with Kensington and Westminster – both of which, as we’ve discovered, have excellent and well-stocked children’s libraries, especially Kensington (High St Kensington) and Paddington (Royal Oak), have more of a budget to buy new books, and don’t charge on the loans of ones they already have.

Still, I don’t want to be negative. The basic library service is still an amazing thing.

  • When else in life can you decide you need something, or want something, or think something sounds interesting, and borrow it for three weeks without paying for it? (Actually, you can borrow between eight and twelve of it, depending on the library.)
  • All London libraries now have their catalogues online, meaning that you can not only search for books but also manage your account if you want to renew or reserve items.
  • You can reserve a book that is out on loan, request something from another library or ask the library to order it in for you. Depending on the library and your age, there may be a small charge for this. (Kensington and Westminster don’t charge.)
  • As well as audiobooks, libraries can lend CDs across all kinds of musical styles, and DVDs (films and TV box sets), for a small charge. At Hammersmith, CDs and DVDs can only be taken out on an adult ticket – but there is a loyalty system where five book, CD or DVD receipts will earn you a free CD or DVD loan.
  • Kensington and Westminster libraries also loan ebooks. You can download a range of titles directly to your e-reader or computer without even going to the library…

…although, personally, I think that would be a shame.

Please do use the libraries, keep them alive. It’s worrying to see Hammersmith introducing fees and charges for children’s books (arguably putting off the people who can least easily pay and stand most to gain from free library services), and depressing to find that the money raised doesn’t even go to restock the library but directly to the council. It’s all too easy to run down a library, to under-fund and under-resource it and make it expensive and difficult to use, and then say that so few people use it, it’s not worth keeping going. It doesn’t look as bad as closing the library down to begin with; but in the end, the effect is pretty much the same. Let’s not let that happen.

That was rather heavy for a first post! From next week, I plan to focus on specific authors or themes. Please do check back and let me know what you think.


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