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A Debt Owed to Libraries

They are about the “good” things of life delivering tangible outcomes in economic regeneration, learning, literacy and health as well as providing opportunities for personal enrichment and fulfilment. In a time of recession libraries are needed even more with information for job seekers, support for the development of new skills and knowledge, and a “free” public space encouraging community cohesion and a wide range of activities: they are beacons of hope for a better future – extract from CLIP’s statement on the position of the public Libarary Service in England.

It is hard to imagine a child today saying the words, “Everything that I am, I owe to libraries.”  And yet they were said by someone who combines a love of all that is traditional while embracing the shiny new world of technology, open armed. Someone who prefers to describe himself as a verb, in case a noun might  in some way limit him. There appears to be no danger of this happening. Wikipedia lists actor, screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, poet, comedian, television presenter and film director, and a director of Norwich City Football Club among his credentials. (Even the thought, Where does he find the time? leaves me breathless.) Not to mention the fact that he is the person most people cite as their ideal dinner party guest. He is Stephen Fry, evidence of that miraculous process of osmosis: reading until you overflow.

“I suppose that, if I have a campaign, I’m really behind it’s that of saving our libraries, because everyone surely has the right to access the voices of the past.”

I hope that Fry’s love of books is as contagious as it is obvious as he whispers, “Behind all these bound copies there are voices and there are people murmuring at you, dragging you into their world.”

Today, as most of us are focused on the housework and the weekly shop, the Library Conference Campaign is taking place in Central London, with the aim helping of local support groups build their campaigns. A quick glance at the campaign map shows that 10% of public libraries are under threat of closure – despite a legal obligation to make free library facilities available to all. Librarians are prohibited from campaigning themselves and you won’t find a petition to save your library in the building itself – council buildings cannot house petitions on council-related property. For more information and advice, go to

Those voices of the past are murmuring. They need you.