Sunday, March 22, 2009

books tomorrow, books yesterday

My books used to be distributed as follows: 10% chez moi. 5% in my mother's house in Chevy Chase (where they ended up after a disastrous spell in New York). 40% in my ex-husband's basement in Leeds. 40% in storage in London.

The 40% in London were the only ones off-site that I could do anything about, so from time to time I would visit my storage unit in Bow and try to reduce the number that had to be brought from London to Berlin. At one point I went through boxes and filled a suitcase with rejects (I think I had ended up somehow with three copies of DeLillo's White Noise, for instance, and the copy in Berlin (acquired because the other two were in storage) was all I really needed); I then took the suitcase to my local Idea Store (formerly known as the library). I explained to a member of staff that I would like to donate books. She was appalled. She then said, Well, she would take a look - taking pity on me because I had dragged this heavy suitcase over.

We went to a conference room and opened the suitcase; she explained apologetically that "they" would not like having a lot of books come in. But she looked through the books, and she thought there were many that readers might like, that she herself might like, and perhaps, she said, the main branch in Bethnal Green might take some, so she agreed to accept them.

Today I read:

Expenditure on books in our libraries is below 8% of the total public library funds, and in inner London that figure is just 5.7% (across the country, councils spend just 1.6% of their funding on children's books; several councils, Hackney and Doncaster among them, spend less than 1%). As a consequence, many libraries now have extremely poor book stocks. In 1996/7 there were 92.3m books available for lending in the UK; in 2007/8 that figure fell to 75.8m. The result of this is that fewer people borrow books – at some councils the number of book loans to adults has fallen below 2.5 a year – at which point it is very easy for a council to claim a library is poorly used and should be closed down.

Rachel Cooke on British libraries here.

(Cooke has actually visited my local Idea Store!)


K said...

I used to live in Bethesda. Libraries in Montgomery County are poorly stocked (at least with good books), but instead of accepting donations, they just re-sell all donated books (absurdly cheap, like 50 cents for a paperback). Bad for them, good for me: one day I came across some strange book called The Last Samurai that my friend had been raving about. I read about 2/3 of it in one sitting, and I've been a fan ever since. If they had taken donations I might never have found it!

P.S. I confess I haven't used the Pay-Pal button, but I did buy another copy in the store. (A total of 3 overall, of which I still have 2: one for me, one for lending, except now both are lent out. If the library won't do that, I have to do it myself.)

Helen DeWitt said...

Bethesda! My mother used to live in Bethesda, so the nearest library was the one in Arlington Road; I would go over there and feel aggrieved. Well, I'm glad the Montgomery County libary system put the book your way.