Your Free Local Public Library

What your local public library can do for you

Libraries have always been a part of the Garreteer lifestyle. Local public libraries provide free book loans, newspapers on tap, expensive reference books, and even a place just to sit and think. I worked in a public library in the UK from 1996 to 2000 in London. (And similarly in the US from 1990 to 1992 but that seems a very long time ago! Academic libraries in the gaps, if you’re wondering.)

Libraries today face budget cuts. They have an image problem. We’re not using them enough to keep them alive. Libraries seem doomed as some recent news stories show (See e.g. Mapping the UK Library Cuts). Campaigns like Voices for the Library and are trying to raise awareness and Public Libraries News is keeping tabs on the latest closures and threats. Do visit them to find out more about campaigning to save libraries. One interesting approach to saving services has been taken by the local library users of Stony Stratford, near Milton Keynes who have checked out every book stocked to protest library cuts.

Many of us like the ‘idea’ of a library – community orientated, service focussed institutions that represent ‘good’ in society – but how many of us have a library card?

The Taking Part: The National Survey of Culture, Leisure and Sport Adult and Child Report 2009/10 found that just 39.4% of us visited a local library in the year surveyed. Even the survey size was tiny – just 6,097 people responded. (These figures are down from 48.2% and 28,117 for 2005/06.) Given that in most cases you need to visit your library to get a library card, these figures are not encouraging.

Libraries are unfairly stereotyped and they are suffering for it but that’s not what I want to write about. The truth is that you don’t actually need to visit your library in person to take advantage of some great free online resources. All you need is that first visit, a PIN, and the Internet.

I’m lucky that my local public library service is the rather marvellous Edinburgh City Libraries. Although I do visit in person at least once a month, I also use a variety of online resources that are provided when I key in my library card number. These include: access to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and other Oxford University Press services like the Oxford English Dictionary, the latest edition of Who’s Who, the chance Learn a language online (choose from English, French, German, Spanish, Italian or Dutch) – which I’ve only just noticed while putting together this post!), an online practice version of the UK’s theory driving test, UK News (with searchable access to 143 UK newspapers) and the quirky John Johnson Archive of Printed Ephemera. A full list of the online services Edinburgh provides is at I use these services even though I am also a member of my university library and of the National Library of Scotland. They are useful and important and I would be devastated to lose them.

Anyone, whether a local library member or not, can access Capital Collections: The Image Library of Edinburgh City Libraries and Museums and Galleries.

I’d recommend using your local public library to any Garreteer. Libraries have moved on, they are very much in the 21st century, and the stereotyped ideas we have about them are sometimes just plain wrong. Services may vary at different local authorities but it is well worth finding out what is available.
Don’t get me wrong, I like libraries and spend a lot of time in them. But I can appreciate that not everyone does and we who do like libraries need to let the others know that libraries aren’t boring old Victorian buildings with nothing to offer. They are innovative places that share their knowledge freely to their members. So join today, visit in person, or visit remotely. Use them or lose them!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the next library usage survey found that more than half the population had visited a public library in the last year, had found out something new, had made new friends at a book group, or had picked up a new (and possibly marketable skill) from using their local library.

For information about public libraries generally see Direct Gov: Your Community.

To find your local public library in England (searchable by postcode, street, or council) click here.

To find your local public library in Scotland (list of links of local councils) click here.

To find your local public library in Wales (list of links to local councils) click  here.

To find your local public library in Northern Ireland (list of links to local councils) click here.

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