“For the sociologist Eric Klinenberg, a vision of the good city begins in the local library. It’s a place where a huge amount of knowledge is available permanently, free of charge. It’s a computer centre; it’s a place where everyone goes, including the marginalised young and elderly. Security is light-touch – “you rarely see a police officer in the library”.
“It is adaptable in a crisis. During Hurricane Sandy, a branch library in Staten Island became the place where local people sheltered and where relief was coordinated. In north-west Bangladesh, libraries float on moored boats in flood-prone areas. All this passes almost unnoticed. Libraries are closing across the UK and the US at a scarily rapid rate (nearly 130 have closed in the past year, it was recently revealed). The public library is not, and inherently never can be, a market, and so, Klinenberg writes, “If it didn’t already exist, it’s hard to imagine our society’s leaders inventing it.”