Smith warns library closures threat to 'democracy of reading'

Smith warns library closures threat to 'democracy of reading'

Author Ali Smith has used her appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to warn how the closure of public libraries was threatening the “democracy of reading”.

Smith, who was interviewed at the festival yesterday (16th August), said the continued closing of libraries would have an impact on the next generation of writers, and that creating “community libraries” meant that in the end the libraries would “fall apart”.

Smith said that public libraries represented a "furiously important tradition" within Britain of "democracy of reading and democracy of space".

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction winner’s next book is Public Library and Other Stories (Hamish Hamilton), a collection of short stories themed around libraries.

She said: “I’ve given the stories a spine, whereby, in the three or four weeks that I was pulling them together and editing the book, I asked everybody I met to tell me something about their public library experiences in their lives and what they thought about the closures that have been happening in this country to public libraries.

"In the space of me doing that asking, 28 libraries closed. In the space of me writing those stories [in the book], seven years, a thousand public libraries closed."

Writers Smith spoke to about the significance of public libraries said “the library made me”.

Smith said public funding for libraries was being withdrawn “under the radar”.

"It's very important we all think about it, because councils who have had the draconian effect of the cuts on them don't like to say libraries are closing, they like to say that they are becoming 'community libraries',” she said. “That means nobody gets paid to look after them and it does mean that in the end they will fall apart."

Smith said that “books made us”, adding: “We know that they are the things that pull us together, we know that they are things that give us life and understanding and knowledge.”

During her appearance Smith also spoke about her award-winning last novel, How to be Both (Hamish Hamilton), which has been printed in two versions with the order of the narratives different in each.

She said: “Lots of publishers have wanted me to publish it one way. America particularly wanted it with George at the front, they think it’s easier, and I just said no. This book was written, from its genesis to be able to be two things.”

Smith also said the she planned that her next four books would come together to form a single larger novel. Smith also delivered the second annual PEN HG Wells lecture at the festival on Saturday 15th August.

Also at the festival yesterday (16th August), author Matt Haig spoke about the importance of reading and writing to mental health. Delivering the Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, Haig said: “Books can save your life. I don’t mean that in a vague airy-fairy way, either, or just to enrich your life or help you impress your friends, though they can. I mean that books can actually help keep you alive."

He added: "I strongly believe that books should not just be valued as things that can help you get a job. They are so much bigger than that."

At his event on Saturday 15th August writer David Mitchell spoke about his next novel, Slade House (Sceptre), which began on Twtter. He said he was happy with the outcome of the Twitter story, but it “asked more questions than it answered”, and so it was “retranslated out of Twitterese into English” to become a full-blown novel.

Authors appearing this week at the festival include Alexander McCall Smith, Antonia Fraser and Hermione Lee.