The trend for library closures isn't global. South Korea is one of the most technologically trend-aware nations in the world. Yet instead of closing libraries, its government has just approved a programme for spending 552 billion won ($493 million) on opening 66 public libraries and 114 small libraries, according to The Korea Herald. I recently travelled to Seoul on business and on my last day there I walked through an enormous bookshop. People of all ages were browsing every section; seated on the floor or just standing in the middle of stacks of books, intently reading. I was told that getting a good education is a big part of South Korean culture but I felt there was more to it than that. There was a palpable air of hunger and joy and enjoyment that seems to be lacking in most of our UK bookshops.
The place where I've encountered the same feeling is a good library.
Although many famous authors have openly voiced concern over library closures, one set of voices curiously absent from the discussion are book publishers themselves. Why should publishers be concerned about library closures? Because people who love to read are likely to enjoy their reading material in many formats and from many sources. When Neil Gaiman famously gave some of his books and short stories away online, his reasoning was that it is entirely sensible to do so because it is a good way for people to discover new authors. The discovery of a new author usually leads to purchases.
It is possible for people to own a computer, an e-reader and some paper books. It's possible for us to own and use both a TV and a radio. Video didn't entirely kill the radio star, though radio no longer holds a central position in our hierarchy of news and entertainment.
We need to save the concept of the public library. I'd go as far as to say that we need to stop specific library closures — even if the library under threat is one of the less radiant ones. However, libraries, librarians, and politicians need to help the library itself evolve. There is a danger in all the pro-library raves and rallies of coming across as overly conservative, organised by literary Luddites and self-serving public workers. There is no point in hysterically holding on to a model that will never quite hold the same position in our society as it did before. Once we accept this we can find a better way for libraries to continue to exist, entertain us, and light the way for future generations.