Philip Pullman to UK Govt: Hands Off Our Libraries!

January 27, 2011 at 3:04 pm 10 comments

Philip PullmanLast week, Philip Pullman — bestselling author of the His Dark Materials trilogy (Northern Lights / The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass), The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, and many other books — spoke to a packed audience in Oxfordshire to defend the immeasurable value of public libraries, and to decry the recent government slashing of public funding in the UK, which is currently resulting in library closures all over the country.

Here are some choice excerpts:

The greedy ghost is everywhere. That office block isn’t making enough money: tear it down and put up a block of flats. The flats aren’t making enough money: rip them apart and put up a hotel. The hotel isn’t making enough money: smash it to the ground and put up a multiplex cinema. The cinema isn’t making enough money: demolish it and put up a shopping mall.

The greedy ghost understands profit all right. But that’s all he understands. What he doesn’t understand is enterprises that don’t make a profit, because they’re not set up to do that but to do something different. He doesn’t understand libraries at all, for instance. That branch – how much money did it make last year? Why aren’t you charging higher fines? Why don’t you charge for library cards? Why don’t you charge for every catalogue search? Reserving books – you should charge a lot more for that. Those bookshelves over there – what’s on them? Philosophy? And how many people looked at them last week? Three? Empty those shelves and fill them up with celebrity memoirs.

That’s all the greedy ghost thinks libraries are for.


I still remember the first library ticket I ever had. It must have been about 1957. My mother took me to the public library just off Battersea Park Road and enrolled me. I was thrilled. All those books, and I was allowed to borrow whichever I wanted! And I remember some of the first books I borrowed and fell in love with: the Moomin books by Tove Jansson; a French novel for children called A Hundred Million Francs; why did I like that? Why did I read it over and over again, and borrow it many times? I don’t know. But what a gift to give a child, this chance to discover that you can love a book and the characters in it, you can become their friend and share their adventures in your own imagination.

And the secrecy of it! The blessed privacy! No-one else can get in the way, no-one else can invade it, no-one else even knows what’s going on in that wonderful space that opens up between the reader and the book. That open democratic space full of thrills, full of excitement and fear, full of astonishment, where your own emotions and ideas are given back to you clarified, magnified, purified, valued. You’re a citizen of that great democratic space that opens up between you and the book. And the body that gave it to you is the public library. Can I possibly convey the magnitude of that gift?

Somewhere in Blackbird Leys, somewhere in Berinsfield, somewhere in Botley, somewhere in Benson or in Bampton, to name only the communities beginning with B whose libraries are going to be abolished, somewhere in each of them there is a child right now, there are children, just like me at that age in Battersea, children who only need to make that discovery to learn that they too are citizens of the republic of reading. Only the public library can give them that gift.


One final memory, this time from just a couple of years ago: I was trying to find out where all the rivers and streams ran in Oxford, for a book I’m writing called The Book of Dust. I went to the Central Library and there, with the help of a clever member of staff, I managed to find some old maps that showed me exactly what I wanted to know, and I photocopied them, and now they are pinned to my wall where I can see exactly what I want to know.

The public library, again. Yes, I’m writing a book, Mr Mitchell, and yes, I hope it’ll make some money. But I’m not praising the public library service for money. I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.

You can read the entire speech online at False Economy.


Entry filed under: Public Libraries, Recreational Reading.

“Hooked on Books” Campaign 2011 Save Libraries: Twitter Campaign

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bryan  |  January 27, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Sweet quotes. Phillip Pullman is one of my favourite writers currently, and His Dark Materials are good. I feel, the library is meant for people to read books for free, it has nothing to do with the amount of money the library earns. if it were to charge for every book we borrow, it would be more like a bookstore then a library

  • 2. Foo Yang Yi  |  January 27, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    And some people take things for granted until they lose them.

    This shouldn’t be happening to libraries.

  • 3. Save Libraries: Twitter Campaign « HCI Kong Chian Library  |  February 1, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    […] to the previous post concerning the public library crisis in the UK, a Twitter campaign sprouted up utilizing the […]

  • 4. Lin Weihan  |  February 9, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    I feel that Libraries are not supposed to earn profits at all, just to provide a good service to the people, such as a varieties of books for reference and for enjoyment. A clean and quiet environment is also what should be included in a good service, for studying and reading. Libraries should be free of charge to use, and should always be. This will help those with low income to be able to enjoy the library. In conclusion, I feel that the library is supposed to be a relaxed, quiet and enjoyable place that should be free for everyone to enjoy.

  • 5. Leeu Jun Jie  |  February 10, 2011 at 8:30 am

    I feel that the library is used for a place to learn, so it should not be earning any profits. I think that everyone should appreciate the library and not take it for granted. Moreover, if libraries tries to earn profits by renting books, it would not be good as financially challenged families will not be able to afford them and this will cause the education level to suffer. In conclusion, I feel that libraries should not earn profits.

  • 6. Leeu Jun Jie  |  February 10, 2011 at 8:41 am

    I also think that libraries should gain some profits, in the way of fines, to keep libraries going on. They should have higher fine rates for overdue books. In addition to that, I think they should check the borrowed books whether if they are in a good condition. The library is a good place to study, so it must earn some profits to carry on. I think the library is a place for everyone, and everyone should protect the books there.

  • 7. Yang Zhenyan  |  February 22, 2011 at 7:20 am

    I think that libraries are a place for learning and therefore they should not be earning any profits at all. However, I think if the libraries do not earn any money, then they will close down very quickly because they do not have funding to buy new books.

    • 8. Jason Erik Lundberg  |  February 22, 2011 at 4:32 pm

      So Zhenyan, why do feel that libraries need to “earn” money? In the case of public libraries, they are funded by the government; in the case of Kong Chian Library, it is supported by the school.

  • 9. Chen Bo Han  |  April 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    I am enraged by this. The libraries are something for the people, and now the government is taking it away. This be a severe thing for the people. Philip said that he once enjoyed his childhood in the library, and the library filled his mind with imagination. In other words, once the government stops funding the libraries, they are taking away the childhood memories of current children. Why should they do that?

    Currently in SIngapore, I think the situation is far better. There are many libraries set up and people get to borrow books and multimedia there. However, there is one flaw. The price of creating a library card for foreigners are extremely pricey. Many the Singapore Library Board can alter the prices so more foriegn people can get to enjoy the libraries

  • 10. Kendrick Sinatra Hardy  |  April 25, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    The fact that the UK government is closing down libraries from all over the country is rather disappointing. The library is a place for people to read or borrow books and bring them home to read. This is a little outrageous because the building libraries main purpose must not actually be earning money but rather satisfying and meeting the needs of the fellow countrymen who like to read. But libraries should gain profit if a booked is borrowed and torn or spoiled because people should not take free borrowing of books in the public library for granted.


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