The power of reading
I am writing in my capacity as a librarian. The Times editorial (June 28) about revamping libraries calls for some considerations. I will limit myself however to a few observations though there are a number of statements in the editorial about which further comments could be made.
The editorial states: "Details of the proposed legislation have not been announced but it is likely that the law may change libraries and archives, now a department within the civil service, into two separate bodies outside the civil service, one covering the National Library and the public libraries and the other covering the National Archives."
If by the new law we are just wishing well only to the national and the public libraries and the national archives without comprehending the other libraries, namely the school libraries, then this seriously shows lack of interest and insight. Is it enough to separate libraries from the archives so that a professional service is delivered? What about the hierarchy of the librarians' profession? What about the school libraries? Are they not also delivering a much-needed service? At least those schools where librarians do serious work.
Again, the editorial mentions the money factor and that local councils must dip much more deeply into their pockets to make their libraries much more respectable. Who delivers money to the local councils?
I would like to suggest one aspect in which different libraries can support each other, something that Joseph Agius mentioned (July 9): the need for cooperation between different libraries. One aspect would be that of "inter-library loans". St Martin's College gives this possibility against all odds since we believe that (i) no single library can purchase all the needed books and (ii) books are expensive, especially the Melitensia ones. Lastly, all libraries are there to render a service to whosoever has an information need.
Unfortunately, when dealing with government schools, a lot of bureaucracy comes in. If someone were to ask me whether I have any projects for the Maltese libraries I would certainly answer in the positive. However, having to work with either the government's employees or with people who have been in committees for ages, tends to get the worst scenario out of me.
The law is needed but it has to reflect current international research. It takes some courage to be innovative or do something new. I hope that different entities realise - before it is too late - that a new path is needed if we would like to have more readership at all levels. Research proves that if we read (in all its forms, varieties and genres) to our children at least 30 minutes daily from age 0 to age 5, we would have given them circa 1,000 hours of brain food.
In other words we would have our children "ready for school". Therefore, when we speak about libraries we have to speak about librarians and the way they handle information in the information society at large.