Monday, 3 February 2014

The power of libraries

Saturday 8th February is National Libraries' Day in the UK, thanks to a grassroots campaign initiated by Alan Gibbons over three years ago. Up and down the country, cutbacks lay waste to our public libraries and the professional librarians who run them. Heartening though it is to see volunteers step in to keep a library open, don't let's kid ourselves. Professional knowledge, accumulated over years, is a public resource that is being rapidly eroded.

The recent story about the burning of a library in the Lebanese city of Tripoli should stir us to reflect... including on the message conveyed by the community's response that you can read here.

The extremists who set alight to Father Surouj's books - so lovingly collected - never expected hundreds of local people to come together to replenish, restore, repair and offer whatever help they could.  Instead of sowing division, the arsonists unwittingly incited a demonstration of communal unity. Young Muslims headed the clean-up, expressing outrage at this attack on a Greek Orthodox Christian priest devoted to his diverse community - and who freely shared ideas from past to present through his library.

In the BBC World Service report (Weekend, 2 February), I was especially struck by two phrases: "Together we can change"... and Father Surouj's reflection: "The harm done to me turned to be a grace."

 I hope we don't need the dramatic burning of books to alert us to what libraries mean and what their loss means.


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