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Room for both...

Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture, is reported in today's Independent as saying that libraries should offer video game facilities and plenty of chattering coffee drinkers. His comments come as Camden Libraries lifts its ban on mobile phones. There are those on the traditional side who not unreasonably think that libraries should just be about silence and books, and there are those, like Burnham, who think that libraries would be better if they became roller discos because he obviously thinks that studious equals sombre which sends out a really great message to 'the yoof of today'! Burnham's vision of libraries seems to consist of little more than kids running amok, and the sound of computer games driving all the readers away.

But! There is no reason why we can't have both - with the emphasis of course remaining with the essential studious nature of the library. Let's face it, most people visit the library to refer to information, to study, or just to be able to write, in peace and quiet. At regular intervals they require coffee and nibbles. The set up at the British Library has it right - the reading rooms are seriously studious, and are always close to full, whereas outside in the main areas people are chatting away on mobile phones, are eating and drinking in the cafes and restaurant and are visiting the exhibitions. What's stopping this model being introduced on a reduced scale in the local library? Nothing. That's why my local - Swiss Cottage Central Library - comes close to this - and is also well attended. It also offers free internet access, and has a rather reasonable dvd hire section. To suddenly allow mobile phone chit chatting amongst all of this brings us too far from the library's primary purpose and sends out the wrong message about the very nature of reading - that, compared to video games and the latest mobile technology and coffee shop culture, it is unworthy and is on its last legs. In which case they should stop calling them libraries and call them arcades instead. Or something. By the way, did I mention that my brother last week bought his four year old a Nintendo DS? I suddenly realise that I am now a member of the proper grown-up generation!

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***


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