This evening I heard the news that Birmingham’s wonderful new library is going to be savagely cutting its opening hours, and laying off just under one hundred members of staff. This is a huge blow for the city that for many years I was proud to call my home, and it is part of a much wider horrible hollowing out of the public sphere that is happening across the country.
I don’t have much to say about this, except to register my enormous sadness at this development, and my utter contempt for the system that makes it seem ideologically uncontentious to claim that one of the richest countries on earth can no longer afford to provide public services such as libraries. In my recently published Complete Write a Novel Course, I wrote the following:
Libraries are wonderful and miraculous things. If libraries didn’t exist, and somebody said to you, “I’ve just come up with a brilliant idea for a massive book-house where you can go free of charge, and sit all day and read stuff, and take books home for short periods without paying a penny, and talk to knowledgeable, well-informed experts who will help you find just what you are looking for,” people would say that such an idea would never catch on, and that if it did, it would bring the entire capitalist world crashing down apocalyptically.
This book has only been published for a few weeks, but I wonder if this passage already makes it look quaint and old-fashioned. Because the apocalypse is taking place here and now. But it is not the capitalist world that is coming crashing down. It is the libraries. And the reason perhaps is this: when the logic of capitalism becomes the only game in town, it becomes unthinkable that such utopian spaces should be permitted to exist at all.