World Book Night: why libraries are important

I celebrated the first World Book Night – the slightly but entirely forgivably hyperbolic name for the initiative to give one million books away in Britain and Ireland to people who might not otherwise read them – at Perth’s AK Bell library.

Celebrating the night with me were authors Geoff Holder, who presented on Perth’s grave-robbing history before gruesome dramatic monologues were provided by members of a local drama group dressed in costume as a medical student – in the name of whom most bodies were stolen owing to the law applying to medical students – as well as a grave robber, his wife, and an executioner; and also Christopher Brookmyre, the ‘Tartan Noir’ satirical novelist whose forthcoming work is to be called ‘Where the Bodies Are Buried’. The evening also provided the opportunity to talk to some of the 20,000 people who have championed the books on offer under World Book Night and in whose names the books have first been given (sharing books is very much the theme, and you can record, and then track the progress of, each book you pass on of the 25 titles included in the programme).

Reading may well be a private, individual activity but it has collective dimensions too – libraries are, after all, places where people come together to share information (this motivation for the government’s attacks on libraries is a blog post waiting to be written) – and it’s good not only to be reminded of those dimensions but also to celebrate them.

Altogether, a very well put together theme for World Book Night, and all for the princely sum of a combined £3.50. At a time when libraries are threatened by government cuts, what better way to demonstrate their continued importance to our cultural lives: bringing books, as well as the authors who write them, closer to the people.

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