In the wake of tough times and savage cuts, public libraries have been buoyed by the growing wave of support from tens of thousands of authors, writers, readers and regular users over the past few months. Now one more particularly high-profile figure has added his voice to the cause; The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has criticised plans to close libraries and also highlighted their importance to the wellbeing of communities through providing spaces whereby people can find “the time to discover a larger world to live in.”
Delivering his Easter sermon last weekend, which focused on the theme of joy and finding it in the most surprising of places, the Archbishop spoke about how happiness is not to be found in divorcing corporate property from personal and community fulfilment and stability but instead is generated from the outside, the relationships we build with others and the environment around us.
He went onto amplify the connection between personal wellbeing, community life and regeneration by discussing a recent visit to Manchester and in particular a visit to a local library situated in “a rather devastated council estate”. The Archbishop spoke of finding there “a lively group of teenagers who were regular users, welcomed by staff, glad of a place to do homework, gossip and feel secure” – which somewhat puts paid to the notion that young people are not regular visitors to libraries. At a time when official priorities are honing in on factors contributing to ‘the happiness of the nation’, the Archbishop questioned the extent to which the relatively simple hopes of local people were being valued and suggested that such issues should be spotlighted during government discussions so as to “make us think twice before dismantling what’s already there and disappointing more hopes for the future”.
Reading the Archbishop’s words, it is clear to see that the things he shores up as being vital for the wellbeing of communities – space, opportunities to be creative, good and reliable mental health care and most crucially of all, facilities that help to relieve loneliness, boredom and fear – are also significant to us in creating our vision of New Reader Libraries. Libraries should be at the heart of the community, providing the home-from-home, relaxed atmosphere utilised and enjoyed by that lively group of teenagers in Manchester, while still being places that can enrich, engage and most importantly provide an increased sense of wellbeing amongst everyone.
We welcome the Archbishop of Canterbury’s support for public libraries – it’s evident that he loves libraries, as does the community of that estate in Manchester – as we do too.
You can lend your support for the creation of New Reader Libraries by signing our online petition.