Daily Post Column
October 9th 2018

Like most children at that time, I looked forward to Friday evenings and our family visit to the library. I could wander around the bookshelves for hours. I treasured my library cards and I have never lost that love of reading. There was similar anticipation when the weekly mobile library van came around, especially for older people who werenít able to travel to the library.

So like many others I will be celebrating Libraries Week this week. It gives us the opportunity to reflect on how libraries are not just places where we fall in love with books but also centres of the community. They are versatile public spaces used for many activities.

They often provide courses for people to gain language and digital skills, either for recreation or to help them search for work. Digital volunteerís schemes provide volunteers with skills and accreditation while some libraries offer health-screening services aimed at people living with long-term illness.

The library has been central in preserving our cultural heritage. Working people paid themselves out of their often meagre wages to build libraries to educate themselves, many of which still stand today. They are a testament to the commitment to education as well as to community. Libraries are vital in collecting, preserving and sharing our ancestorís stories.

Over the past decade, councils have struggled to deal with huge cuts in budgets. Sadly, this meant the closure of many libraries. Others were faced with the challenge of finding new ways to raise funding by delivering more services to the community. The low numbers of professional staff in many libraries in Gwynedd, Conwy and Denbighshire, means that the involvement of volunteers has been invaluable in organising events and activities.

Library use is declining, despite the majority of adults and children believing libraries make a positive different to their lives. So we should look at how this problem has been tackled in other countries.

For example, in Finland in the early 2000ís many municipalities shut dozens of libraries throughout the country. This year not one library is facing closure. The government decided to invest heavily in library services, making Finland the country with the second highest number of library users in Europe. Finlandís Library Act made it a legal obligation for every municipality to provide libraries that are accessible to everyone.

We should recognise their importance to life in Wales in the same way and adopt policies, even laws, to keep them open long into the future.

Welsh language materials for libraries week are available here.

Ends.

Photo: Jill Evans