From a lecture by Neil Gaiman, on the importance of libraries, reading and daydreaming:
Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. “If you want your children to be intelligent,” he said, “read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.
It’s an interesting article and challenges some common points of view:
I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.
I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something: when to plant crops, where to find things, maps and histories and stories – they were always good for a meal and company. Information was a valuable thing, and those who had it or could obtain it could charge for that service.
In the last few years, we’ve moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut. According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. That’s about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need.
When I worked full time I never went to the local public library (I tell myself I was too busy). I got everything from the web or from books I ordered online, hardcopy or digital.
The library in my last employer got changed into (effectively) a coffee shop to promote conversation and interaction (not a bad thing, extremely effective actually, just quite different).
As I now work part-time, I decided to explore the local library and now go about once a week (for a few years now). Somewhat to my surprise, I always find something useful or interesting – it was there all along of course, I just didn’t appreciate it. I especially like the fact that I can order any book and get it, for a modest fee, quickly and efficiently (through inter-library loans etc). A superb service!
Sometimes focusing on the web closes eyes rather than opening them.
The UK Government policy on supporting libraries can be found here.