Camden Council in north London, where I live, is considering changing the ethos of its libraries – to allow people to bring in food and drink and use their mobile phones. The intention is to make libraries more appealing to young people.
As both a library user and the parent of a young person, this strikes me as an unfortunate and misguided idea. Libraries are one of the few public spaces in the inner city to which people can turn for quiet. Swiss Cottage, in the borough, hosts one of the best public libraries in the capital. Young people constitute a significant proportion of the users. They go there to find space where they can give unashamed attention to learning. It’s a place of thought, study and contemplation. It is wholly unsuited to be a stage for mobile phone conversations or snacking. Urban life provides an abundance of venues for these activities. The library offers an alternative realm.