LIBRARIES, as the Manic Street Preachers sang in ‘A Design For Life’, gave us power. In recent years, they’ve suffered something of a power cut: between 2010 and 2016, austerity measures across the UK saw 343 libraries close and 8,000 jobs go. The result has been that visitors to libraries have dropped sharply: from a half to a third of the adult population over the last decade. Salisbury, thankfully, has been spared the worst of this, but you don’t have to travel far in any direction to see the effects library cuts have had.
But life, to borrow from Jeff Goldblum’s character in the film Jurassic Park, finds a way. Back in 2009, Wisconsin resident Todd Bol decided to build a tiny library, based on the schoolhouse his mother used to teach in. He put it on a post outside his house, for anyone in the neighbourhood to borrow books. This was the start of the Little Free Library project, which has since seen some 50,000 such libraries dotted over North America and beyond.
It’s an idea that has been replicated in this country, too, with such mini-libraries organically popping up all over the place and in all kinds of places. Recently, a friend of mine smuggled a bookshelf into the waiting room of his local train station to set up a Book Swap for commuters: Empty Your Shelves Fill Your Minds, reads his sign.
This week, taking a walk along the meadows down Britford Lane (hashtag Save the Meadows), I noticed that someone had put an old rabbit hutch to similar good use: Street Library, the sign above read: Take a book…leave a book…bring it back or don’t…it’s up to you! Peering inside, there was an eclectic range of everything from Chaucer to Tom Clancy, Robert Harris to Roger Moore to choose from.
Just outside Salisbury, in Charlton-All-Saints and East Grimstead, old phone boxes have also had their directories replaced with much more appealing reads. There’s something nicely symmetrical about this: physical books and phone boxes teaming up against their twin technological threats of ebooks and smartphones. Using the iconic red booths in this way, if you’ll excuse the pun, seems a very good call. Especially as traditional books are enjoying something of a renaissance: figures released last month by the Publishing Association showed that in 2016, spending on books rose by £89 million: and while sales of ebooks dropped by 17 per cent, those of physical books increased by eight per cent.
There’s life in the old book yet, and thanks to people like the owner of that rabbit hutch, kindly souls who are willing to spread the word.