The scrum for books at Huddersfield Library last Saturday for World Book Night highlighted the pivotal role of libraries in the community. Three titles flew off the table amongst a scrum of pensioners, mothers with children, unemployed people coming to use the free computers for job-searches and CV writing, teenagers sheltering from embarrassing parents, shoppers taking a respite to read newspapers without having to queue for expensive coffees, researchers looking up family and local history, students planning their gaps years, police officers in for a break, doctors and nurses making their way to and from shifts, retired couples stocking up for the week, carers exchanging books for their offspring and parents, people picking up leaflets for local events and performances, chess players (boards available at the desk), people using meeting rooms, the widowed, the lonely, and the mildly and wildly eccentric. The massive sections of society that World Book Night (read volunteers) turned away were children, people who needed books in large print, and those relying on audio books for their weekly fix of crime or romance. Luckily for them, all members of society are catered for by their local library.
Cut to one of the two Waterstones in Huddersfield later that same afternoon, bursting at the seams, bizarrely, with 3 for 2 offers on the 25 titles being given out freely by World Book Night volunteers, next to a free pile of Fingersmith. No queues, no scrum, no chatting amongst readers or carers or pensioners or the unemployed or the blind. If you join your library, then the books are free all the time, in many formats, not just once a year. No gimmicks, no fuss, and you get to make new friends.