The theme for our January competition was ‘Something Old’, preferably a short story written some time ago and never used.
I had just been re-reading Sebastian Faulks’ introduction to his WW1 book ‘Birdsong’:
“I wrote Birdsong…in a sort of frenzy, completing about 1500 words each morning, then taking the Tube to the Imperial War Museum and reading documents from the enormous collection until the reading room closed. At night I dreamt I was in a trench.”
Now that reading room is under threat. Please consider supporting the on-line petition (it can be signed from abroad).
A search of change.org using ‘library’ as the search term produced 7,690 results. It’s time our politicians realised that even in the Internet age, libraries and archives are important. Without archives, we have no history. Without history, we cannot make democracy work. We have to learn and remember the lessons of the past.
Outside the Library of Birmingham for two hours today. My ears are still numb with cold! But at least I’ve done something, however small. It’s fascinating talking to the library users. Visitors from outside the city – I spoke to a lady from Iran who said she had travelled the world and visited almost every town in the UK – as well as local residents. I’d estimate that at least half the library users are young people – especially college students.
I spoke to a young man who said he wants to get his qualifications and go to university, and he needs the library and its facilities as a place to study. He needs it to be open during the evenings and weekends. He said: ‘Why won’t the politicians listen to us?’ I said: ‘If we don’t say anything, they will have nothing to listen to. Maybe I’m not doing any good, by standing here giving out leaflets. But at least I haven’t remained silent. Write your views down, and we will send it in to the Council.’
Without archives, history fails; without history, democracy fails, for how else can we discover the lessons of the past?
I once worked part-time in the archives service at Birmingham’s old Central Library. That experience taught me that archives services do far more than help with a bit of post-Christmas family history research. They give people an interest in a place, and sense of pride in a place, and they are an effective marketing tool for a city to the wider world.
Even if you’ve never set foot in an archive you might well know that they contain exciting things. TV historians wearing white gloves – usually unnecessarily – often manage to find something precious in them.
Yet the importance of the documents themselves, and the stores in which they sit, is far greater than this simple image suggests; archives aren’t for special occasions and their value goes beyond being historical eye candy. That said, Birmingham was recently voted one of the top ten cities in the world
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