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City's library cuts may save PS1.4m today... but will end up costing us a great deal more.


WHATEVER happens in life, some things are reassuringly permanent.

One of these, if you happen to live in Wales, is your local library.

A place where you can take sanc-tuary from the world, lose yourself in a book, find out about local services, take your toddlers to story time, log onto the internet, and even, at my local library, collect compost bags for your recycling.

Whatever your age or background, there will be something for you in the library - it's just a matter of taking a look.

You can borrow CDs, join a reading group, play board games, sign up for a reading challenge, meet authors or find out about other local services.

There's the community notice board, the comfy seats to relax in if you just want to stop for half an hour during a hectic shopping trip, and that wonderful, intoxicating smell of paper and print.

Best of all, is the instantly relaxing atmosphere. No-one shouts, no phones ring and you won't have to listen while someone jabbers into their mobile phone - just let them try. Librarians, notorious for their stern demeanour, are obeyed as few other public servants are.

Just watch the next time a toddler goes Awol by the shelves. A Super-nanny could learn a thing or two from your local librarian's speedy silencing of even the most raucous two-year-old.

And then there's the peoplewatching.

As you idle away an hour scanning the shelves for books you never knew existed and wouldn't find online - where some spooky search engine guesses your taste and flags up books of dull predictability, you will see one of the most diverse range of individuals ever gathering in the same small space.

There's the harassed parent hunting for educational picture books while junior chews the spine of of a hardback, a pensioner reading a newspaper, the busy worker nipping in during lunch hour for a moment's respite from the real world and the teenager hunting for some reference for homework online.

Their clothes and hair will suggest varied tastes and backgrounds, but all unite at the library.

The quiet coughs, creaking floorboards and hushed tones are almost religious.

You know the moment you enter a library that this is a special place where all are welcome and all will find something they need.

There have been times when I haven't found the book I wanted, but they were rare and I ordered it.

So, news that Cardiff's libraries - like many across Wales - are under threat from unprecedented cuts sends a shiver down my spine.

The council, under pressure from Whitehall government budget cuts, aims to save PS1.4m in library services through closures and staff losses, even at the flagship Cardiff Central Library.

This chilling attack on one of our most valuable assets goes against all advice.

Teachers, social commentators T and educationalists rightly say our children need to read more.

We all need to read more - and not just 140-character tweets.

Long before they can begin to read, a whole universe can be opened up for babies and toddlers looking at pictures, poking, pulling, smelling and prodding books which they quickly learn to love.

Books are, for many, the best way of opening up the idea that learning is fun.

Saving PS1.4m today may cost a great deal more tomorrow.

Keeping our population informed and providing a free source of books and learning is a damn sight cheaper than paying the price of ignorance further down the line.

Cardiff City Council faces a bleak task.

It has to make cuts and, wherever it suggests making them, there will be opposition.

After the budget consultation closes on January 12, the council will make a final decision by February 26, so there's not long to put a word in for our libraries.

In the grand scheme of things PS1.4m is not very much - the price of a house to some of our politicians in London dreaming up these savings that are decimating council services.

Free access to books should be a right not a privilege, as the South Wales miners who set up the Miners' Institutes knew.

Lose our libraries and we won't get them back.

Public libraries are one of the last places we can all go to learn, be entertained and expand our view of the world.

We close and diminish them at our peril.

As the writer Anne Herbert said: "Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries."


'Free access to books should be a right not a privilege, as the South Wales miners who set up the Miners' Institutes knew'
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Title Annotation:Editorial; Opinion Columns
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 7, 2015
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