Public libraries should make more effort to sell themselves to tourists. On a recent holiday in the Lake District, I visited Cockermouth Library and found it really easy to register as a visitor, borrow books and use the computers. Many people know they can access their email at any library but I don’t think many would think they could borrow books if they were only staying for a short time.
One of the arguments for taking a kindle on holiday is that it saves you taking a pile of books away with you, but it’s much more fun to borrow some from a local library, especially if you have children to entertain in the rain. You could even borrow one of Wainwright’s fantastic walking guides (Tom and I climbed several hills with him, including Cat Bells, “not quite so innocuous as is usually thought, and grandmothers and infants should have a care as they romp around”). Local libraries usually have a good selection of novels set in the area as well, which make good holiday reading (I’d taken William Boyd’s James Bond novel Solo, which I enjoyed, but it didn’t feel quite right in Cumbria).
The Black Country is nothing like the Lake District but we do have visitors researching ancestors who once worked in the local mines and factories and they often call into the library to look at local history books and maps and talk to us about their families. They’re always surprised to find they can actually take books away with them (you don’t have to have a local address to use a public library) and that’s probably because public libraries don’t advertise the fact!
Times have changed. The emphasis is no longer on safeguarding our books at all costs – most people are honest and we’d much rather have people visiting our libraries and enjoying the wonderful selection of books there.
Our public libraries are great assets and our tourist boards should be using them to attract visitors. (Not just as places to get local information but as places to borrow books and entertain children.) When I next stay in a holiday cottage or hotel, I’d like to see a brochure about the local public library, and if there isn’t one, I’ll add one myself!