Why Sheffield Council Should Sell the Central Library Building.

Have you read the proposal? Sounds like a good idea to me. Yes, they should sell it and open a new library.

But really, I actually use the Central Library on a weekly basis, and I doubt that most of the people signing this do. Nothing lasts forever, and libraries are an anachronism in the Information Age. We can all be sentimental. And we can squander money that could be better spent on other things. After all, what is a library for? A place to put books so they are readily available for loan to the public? Have you seen the Central Library recently? Most of the space is taken up with other media and computers. Most people can access books on their phones. All right, some of us like to hold a book with paper pages. But how many? And have we the right to take resources from the majority of the public who are reading — but just not reading books? It’s even rather condescending. I do think libraries are invaluable. But do bear in mind that the Sheffield Council is intending to replace this old building with a nice new modern one, probably with better access for the disabled. That’s something that’s not been mentioned, so far. The new hotel will keep the Graves Art Gallery, but move it to the ground floor.

I used to be a member of the Sheffield Writers’ Club, which met in the Central Library Committee Room. Ours was Sheffield’s oldest writers’ club, and we were proud of our meeting place, it had a certain cachet. But when the Central Library administrators told us that they no longer had room for us, we did what we had to do and looked elsewhere for a meeting place. The administrator explained that they just did not have room to expand and were running out of space — even for storing, let alone displaying books. Look in the Central Library, in the novels section for instance. It’s been decimated. All the books that I used to borrow in my childhood have gone. But there’s no point in being sentimental about it. My childhood is long gone too! We can’t all live in the past. Even the computers in the Central Library are out of date. And in any case, most people have phones that knock the Central Library’s desktop PCs into a cocked hat. And most people download films and music from iTunes. The Music Library used to be a splendid service, with lunchtime recitals and knowledgeable assistants — all gone. It just isn’t that important anymore.

So what is the point of the Central Library? What should be its rȏle in the 21st Century?

I think it does have a rȏle, but a transitional one. There are some aspects of the Central Library service that are probably important and may be indispensable. One that immediately springs to mind is the provision of graphic novels in printed versions. Another is art books. And yet another is music scores. But these are already obsolescent. With the advent of the modern tablet computer, there is no reason to have a printed score as any tablet will fit on a music rest, or the score can be printed out, to order. Of course, some people love to hold a book in the hand, but they tend to buy and own their own copies. We are even living in the age of the cheap book! Look on Amazon. The classics are available for free download in Kindle format, but in many cases, second hand books are available for a nominal cost, many supplied by Oxfam and similar. There remain other services provided by the Central Library, such as searches. But these need not be provided by a centralised facility. In fact, many library services can be accessed by a terminal — anywhere! The building becomes irrelevant. So what are we complaining about? A building that is nice to shelter in on a rainy day? A building to point at, proudly, when showing visitors around the city? I suspect that for most people who will sign this petition, that is all the Central Library will ever be.

I actually use the Central Library. I go there on a weekly basis. I rarely borrow books, these days, and if you saw my flat, you would know why. There are books everywhere! But those are books that I own. The books that I would like to be able to read in the Central Library, on a casual ‘drop in’ basis are long gone. Recently, I had to get them to bring one up from the Stack. That’s because they don’t have the space. If the demand is there, they will build this new library building, and Emile Zola and Proust and Woolf will be back on the Shelves where they were in my childhood. And more important, GCSE texts will be there in sufficient quantities for dozens of students to have access. But do I have the right to demand that they prop up this crumbling edifice? Well, no, I don’t think I do, and that’s why I’m not going to sign this petition.

And after all is said and done, maybe they can solve their problems by extending their download service. Yes, they already have a ebook loan service. For the Central Library, and others, similar, the writing is not just on the wall, it’s on Cyberspace.

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About Zoe Nightingale

I am a writer of short stories, novels, poetry and non fiction.
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