Our public libraries still amaze me. Even though they’re being hit hard by cuts, challenged to find a place in a world romancing the digital, their very function at odds with a future in love with ‘sharing’ but sniffy about borrowing, they remain a stunning act of generosity. Where else can you wander through thousands of years of thought? It’s all here: dreams, schemes, delusions, and designs for life. What other institution not only allows free access but packages up that knowledge and implores you to live with it for a while.

And while the UK library system is going through a tough time, despite a wealth of ideas, the rest of the world seems to be rocking quite happily on with public libraries. You can have reading nets in Spain, open offices in Sweden, and the drive up window at Cleveland Ohio. Not heard of that one? Me neither until my friend Cath was over from the States and told me. No need to browse, just phone your request through and drive up to the window.


Okay, we can sneer at this symbol of American car culture but it’s also a symbol of American attitudes to service. You order it and they will have it ready for you. Reservation costs? Zero. Zero!! I’m paying 80p a shot. Worse, Cath tells me DVDs and CDs are all loaned out for free too. This might seem small beans but these are precisely some of the reasons that families in the UK don’t use public libraries.
Sometimes this great expression of generosity is spoilt by the petty conditions and the need to support a public service by racking up fees from photocopying, DVDs lending etc.

But this weekend the sun was shinning on libraries all over the UK. Even our small library was buzzing, and all over the town you could see children walking around clutching books! The reason? The Summer Reading Challenge. The icing on the cake, the offer that keeps giving, the embodiment of that stunning act of generosity pitched at our futures.