Coming home to the UK for Christmas, I was quite looking forward to going to the local public library for a visit – a nice chance to pick up some holiday reading, find out about the latest upcoming authors, and generally see how the place is going. This has become a bit of a habit – this is the third year running that, working abroad, I’ve come home for Christmas and popped in to Farnham library. Each time I do feel that it has given me a sensation of how public libraries are doing in England.
This time, I was very pleased to see that they’ve redesigned their teen area – and that it now looks very attractive, is out-of-the-way so it’s easy to settle down there without being seen (crucial for any self-respecting teen), and not so overdesigned that it will look out of date in 12 weeks time. That, and the general aspect of the rest of the library, meant that it was on the whole looking great. On the downside, there were less staff, no more computers, and a catalogue that wasn’t working. (Yes, if I was working there, I would through my hands up at someone judging a whole library on the basis of one temporarily-broken computer, but back on this side of the fence it’s hard to resist the temptation).
However, the real difference was when I started to look around the books in the teen fiction. It’s a great opportunity for me to try new authors I’ve never seen before, and authors I’ve been meaning to try but haven’t, and then buy them for my school library back in Bangkok. Not to mention the fact that I really enjoy reading teen fiction! However, this time round there were few unfamiliar authors jumping out at me, which suggests that there’s been much less stock bought in the last year. I also found it very hard to find the first volume of any series, which suggests that there are a lot of constraints over when they can buy duplicates.
On the whole it’s a positive picture – imagine coming back this year to find the library closed, as has happened elsewhere in the country! – but there is a definite grey cloud, and if that presents itself in a busy, large-ish library like Farnham, it must be very stormy indeed elsewhere. If anything, the fact that there is so much effort to keep the image of the library clean and bright, behind which there are less staff and less new new books, fills me with even more foreboding…