e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the tag “libraries”

Hay-on-Wye and Timbuktu

While browsing the web trying to find an answer to the question:

Why does the small, Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye have so many bookshops?

I came across the information that it is twinned with Timbuktu.

The reason is not hard to find – Timbuktu is also famous for books, this time in libraries. These libraries contain diverse and important collections of Islamic manuscripts.

There have been recent instances of extremist rebels damaging shrines and monuments in the area. So far the libraries are safe but they are still very vulnerable. To make them safer the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project has been studying and digitising their contents, but with so much material this is a long process.

In addition to important works of Islamic scholarship, these collections also form a major source for the study of African history. Even in apparently purely religious texts there are often little notes in the margins giving local details. This is part of the charm of old books – other readers have been here before and left their mark. For a modern version of this take a look at Bundle of Books for 9 July.

My question:

Why does Timbuktu have so many libraries?

is quite easily answered. It was a major trading settlement that grew into an important city on a meeting point of desert and river valley, with a mixed and intellectually active population. From different parts of the Islamic world people came (and still come) to study and contribute to the scholarship in the city.

I still haven’t found the answer to my first question. The nearest I can get is that  Hay-on-Wye sits on a meeting point – this time of England and Wales – and is full of enterprising and intellectually active people. Through its festivals it has numerous visitors from the world of readers and writers.

Replace a word with ‘librarian’

Browsing through Twitter this morning I came across this London trend #replaceawordwithlibrarian.

I think it has something to do with a campaign to save libraries.

Whatever the reason for it, some of the tweets make lovely reading:

like Holly Bodger’s

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a librarian.

or Philip Ardagh’s

The name’s Bond. Librarian Bond.

Joking aside, all efforts to keep libraries open and free to their users are vital. A local library is a treasure-house of knowledge, thought and entertainment available to rich and poor alike.

Closing one now may save a few pounds; restocking and reopening it in the future would cost thousands. Short-termism is always more expensive in the long term.

Library turmoil

Today I had a browse on the website of The Bookseller – a very interesting publication.

An article entitled Surrey residents win library challenge caught my eye. It seemed that Surrey CC planned to withdraw paid staff from several libraries, apparently replacing them with volunteers. Surrey residents objected, took the matter to the High Court and won.

Good for them. Any challenge to high-handed political actions is a strengthening of democracy and shows that our nation has not sunk into apathy.

However, I thought the idea of voluntary libraries sounded intriguing. A bad thing in that it means less paid jobs, but a good thing in that it keeps libraries open.

But next to the original article was a link to another: Public Lending Rights not given in volunteer-run libraries.

I am not at a stage in my writing career where this has any effect on me, but what will it do to the income of published writers?

The article suggests that some new legislation will correct this problem, but, realistically, how close to the top of the government’s agenda is sorting PLR?

Library rearrangements

I went to the Arts Council England website to have a look at what they say about literature.

Instead I got sidetracked by the discovery that they’ve taken over responsibility for libraries (and museums). Until this autumn there has been a government department called Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA). Now the Arts Council looks after the museums and libraries and the National Archives the archives.

I suppose it’s sort of silly to be saddened by the loss of a set-up I didn’t know existed, but I’ve been through these reorganisations myself and I know they’re generally unpleasant for the staff involved. I also know that programmes, funding and ideas can easily slip through the cracks between organisations.

I’m not convinced that the move is completely logical (except in its design of saving money). The Arts Council is involved in the creative side of culture, while museums and libraries both preserve rather than create.

(I know! I know! there’s creativity in the presentation of museum displays and library services, but they’re of a different sort and can’t be defined as ‘arts’.)

But the Arts Council has many years experience in developing, encouraging and paying for culture. Logical or not I expect the new arrangement will be successful. Whether it’ll save money, only time will tell.

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