I read a great story a few weeks ago about librarian Paul Clark, who almost singlehandedly saved Florida public libraries from devastating funding cuts. Last spring, Clark used his own vacation time to plead with lawmakers in Tallahassee not to cut funding. He was successful. Lawmakers restored $9.5 million that had originally been cut from the library budget. Subsequently, Clark was awarded the Carnegie Corp. of New York/New York Times “I Love My Librarian” award for community service.
Libraries have always been essential to the development and preservation of culture and learning, and this was certainly true in the Regency era, the period during which my novels are set. This is nowhere more evident than in The King’s Library, pictured at the top of this post. This library was a collection of over 60,000 books amassed by George III and donated to the nation by George IV in 1823. It’s an astounding body of work, displayed in all its glory in the British Museum. For any history buff of the Regency or Georgian periods, a visit to The King’s Library is tantamount to a pilgrimage.
Circulating libraries were also an important part of life during the Regency, a place where people could meet to peruse the latest periodicals, check out a book, or spend hours gossiping with their friends. They were very much a part of the social and culture life of both the upper and rising middle classes, as any reader of Jane Austen novels can attest.
Are libraries as important today as they were during the Regency? The internet has put so much information at the tips of our fingers that we sometimes forget that not everyone has the resources to own a computer, or money to buy books whenever they want, or the technical skills to find the information they need in the astounding clutter that makes up the internet. And that’s why libraries and librarians are still so necessary. They are both repositories of knowledge and a key part of a healthy community, a great equalizer in making information accessible to everyone who needs it.
So, look up every now and again from you laptop or your ipad or your netbook, and pay tribute to librarians like Paul Clark. And the next time you go into a library to check out a book or look something up or just plain browse for fun, don’t forget to tell your local librarians how much you appreciate them.