Do you love libraries?


“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

I’m sure you’ve seen this quote all over social media, supposedly by the classical writer Cicero. However, I’d never seen the source given, leading me to suppose that this was one of those fake quotations that the internet is awash with, aimed at those who would be in sympathy with the views expressed.

Nevertheless, searching for the Latin translation seemed to offer some sort of resolution, and so it proved. The sentence is from a letter Cicero wrote to his friend Terence (found in Epistulae ad familiares Book IX, Epistle 4):

si hortum in bibliotheca habes, deerit nihil.

The literal translation is something like “If you have a garden in your library, nothing will be amiss.” The implication being that if you create a kind of bibliophile’s paradise — an oasis of calm perhaps — in your private library, where you can meet and discuss matters with your friends, all will be fine. You can see that the slightly inaccurate ‘quote’ usually given resonates rather more with modern feelings about public (as opposed to private) libraries.

I don’t need to tell you that in these straitened times — when we’re all told to tighten our belts even more, when all the fat has been sliced off public purses until the bone is reached — much of local government in the UK is trying their best to circumvent the admirable provisions of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 in an attempt to fit in with government austerity diktats. And, equally, some of the public is trying to say “hands off” in every which way it can.


Raising public awareness of the threats is just the first step. Making the case for the need of such provision is harder. Challenges in the courts are a possible way to stymie any fait accompli that councils might try to make, and that seems to have been the case in England; for example, Herefordshire opponents of proposed library cuts in 2013 claimed that “The whole of culture and leisure services accounts for just 0.2% of the budget”, thus questioning why cuts needed to be so draconian. Public Libraries News, available online, charts the turbulent waters of changing library provision in the UK with a questionable political agenda trying to determine it future course.

Where I live in the Welsh county of Powys the County Council said it had to find £250,000 worth of savings in the library service by 2019 — part of its plan to shave £29 million off its expenditure before 2020 — and had argued that a significant number of its libraries would have to be closed. Because by law county councils must provide a library service, Powys proposed that six main libraries and the two mobile library services would  form the core, unless …

A consultation launched earlier this year asked the public how it could cut running costs of eleven branch libraries by 50% whilst still continuing to provide a service. Eight branch libraries (including, ironically, Hay-on-Wye, the “town of books” and home to a prestigious literary festival) were regarded as at risk after an October 31 deadline calling for community-led solutions came and went.** A handful though have submitted what the county council has called “firm proposals” to take on the running of their local libraries, including my hometown of Crickhowell (which I have written about before, here and here). The business plan from the local high school included taking over the library for both school and community use (they had already successfully taken responsibility for the town’s indoor leisure facilities in 2014) and a recent county council meeting has approved this proposal. The latest news through the grapevine is that the transfer is due to happen imminently, as early as the beginning of December.

So, in amongst all the bleak news about Brexit, President-elect Trump, the rise of the extreme right and so on we see a brief, localised glimmer of light. When we’re fed scary stories that some firms have been including spybots and malware in products ranging from household appliances to vehicles it’s possible that ideas are the only dangerous things contained in books: ideas that can either challenge or console. Ray Bradbury was one of many writers to extol public libraries. He did it in his fiction (much of the action in Something Wicked This Way Comes is set in a library, and books are central to Fahrenheit 451) and he did it in his public utterances: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” 

Are we not in danger of witnessing the slow demise of our traditional cultures if public libraries are no longer valued? It’s not enough to love public libraries; as Cicero might have said, we need public libraries.



And now, a little light relief, albeit the humour is somewhat black — let’s hope that this doesn’t turn out to be prophetic.

Photo source:
Photo source:

** Update on Hay-on-Wye’s library here:


25 thoughts on “Do you love libraries?

  1. inkbiotic

    Great article! Love your investigation into the library quote (can you now do it for all the other dubious internet quotes, please?) As for the closing down of libraries, I wish people would realise it’s not about reducing the deficit – the governments *wants* to shut down services, that is their ethos.
    Have a fine day 🙂

    1. I was reminded of Margaret Thatcher quoting St Francis, when she became PM, the moment Theresa May accepted the same post, opining she was there for ordinary people. Both speeches were weasel words; they care only for more power for people like them, backed up by money. It makes me sick to the heart.

  2. I think Inkbiotic’s right – the government are delighted to be able use the need for ‘austerity measure’ as an excuse to cut public services. When it comes down to it, successive governments (back to the ‘privatise everything’ days of Margaret Thatcher) have shown that they don’t really want to pay for anything other than the very minimum, that they believe selling off everything – from healthcare to public transport – is the way forward. It’s what comes from an ethos where showing a profit is prioritised over keeping your citizens healthy and happy. All we need to do is look at the way benefits have been cut for the disabled to know they just don’t care about the people they govern.
    Rant over.

    1. Rant away, Lynn, you’re only saying what most of us think. Tory policies are absolutely about growth and profit — but nowhere is there a realisation that we cannot keep growing exponentially as we’re currently doing, increasing human populations, using up finite resources, raising global temperatures and all the rest. And, of course, the profit motive means extracting more from those dwindling resources, year on year, profit that’s artificially inflated to satisfy shareholders and the markets. It’s madness, truly the Emperor’s New Clothes. Even the language of the left too often falls into the same trap.

      And now my own rant is done … 🙂

      1. All sadly true. I was ranting to someone else the other day about shareholders – they truly are the slippery slope. Once they invest in a company, it becomes solely about profit and keeping them happy, with quality and customer service a poor second or third. I don’t know what the answer is, but as you say, it’s all unsustainable

        1. New Labour came up with the novel idea that, in contradistinction to Thatcher’s failed vision of everyone-a-shareholder, we the public should be ‘stakeholders’ in our publicly-owned public services. Now I wonder what happened to that notion? Certainly we’ve witnessed a return to Thatcherite greed and contempt for society, all at the expense of the proles, with any dissent labelled as the politics of envy. Too damn right!

          1. I know it’s the way the world has always been, but it sickens me how people with cash have the best health care, the best education and opportunities, while the rest of us have to pick at whatever we’re thrown. It’s hardly surprising politicians who’ve come through the public school system, never having been poor for a day of their lives have little fellow feeling for people who will never be anything else but poor. How can they possibly identify? We need more working class politicians, more from minority groups, perhaps then we might see priorities change. Perhaps. Ranty Tuesday is definitely upon me – maybe I should start a new thread of posts … 🙂

  3. I come from a long line of library-goers. Memories of my mom taking my sister and I to our city library and I remember the first book I ever checked out when I was six (The Story about Ping). Everywhere I have ever lived, finding the public library and getting my library card was one of my first necessities. This is all to say, I suppose, I have this Romantic notion that libraries are sacred, the unadulterated places of freedom to think and to learn.

    So when my city, like cities all over the world apparently, wanted to cut city funds, they looked to the library system. Their plan was to cut hours at all the branches, which was shocking and I have to admit a little scary to think knowledge-access would be so limited. And that act also impacted more that just readers, It meant the safety and security to countless kids who used it for after school homework clubs and meetings because their home lives were so chaotic, would be curtailed; older people whose social time with their cronies might only be at the library or to read the newspapers of their hometown were done away with. But there was such a hue and cry that after only a few months of these cuts, the hours were restored. THAT never happens!

    And, uh, as an American, I can honestly say that black humor sign is becoming our reality….sigh.

    1. You’re absolutely right, Laurie: but I don’t think libraries are a Romantic notion, I think they are essential as repositories of collective memories,knowledge and thinking. We are rghtly shocked when ISIS/Daesh barbarously destroys ancient Mesopotamian cities in their denial of any truth but their warped creeds; should we stand idly by when similar depridations are visited on our own libraries as irrelevant luxuries?

      I think we agree on the answer to this! And if we truly live in a ‘post-truth’ age then libraries must stand as bastions against a new tide of fascism.

      1. “And if we truly live in a ‘post-truth’ age then libraries must stand as bastions against a new tide of fascism.”

        It is coming out in the States how much false information was taken for truth during the election; how many people and websites were created to actually conjure up lies and falsehoods that the unsuspecting (or I would say, undiscerning) public believed. The digital age makes this all too easy and there must be a bastion of truth somewhere, somehow, where deliberate and thoughtful thinking rules rather knee-jerk assent. Yes, and that is our libraries!

        1. Much the same applied to the Brexit referendum here in the UK, Laurie, with by far the largest proportion of lies and misimformation pumped out by unscrupulous politicians and their rightwing media cronies, who played up ignorance of EU membership benefits and inflaming prejudice against otherness while also playing down the financial and political consequences of withdrawal. Emotions were only too easily manipulated; and recent history tells us where that can lead.

  4. When libraries are pruned rather than expanded, there are alarming signs of a seriously sick society. No replacement by electronic means can be a substitution for the written word in book format — pity, that, in a way, because of the trees …

    The wretched rabble who, throughout literate history, have considered it a good idea to burn books to register disapproval, such as recently in my home city, would make far more appropriate combustibles.

    1. Though I would demur on your last thought — that any human being, however benighted, deserves to be burnt — I concur with pretty much everything you say. We are a pretty sick society, but I hope we aren’t going to witness the purges that past doctors gave their ill patients, in which the treatment killed what the illness did not.

  5. Agree with you to the back teeth about the powers that run our society. But it was always going to happen given the rule of neoliberalism. What we’re seeing is as inevitable as the collapse of hardline communism, and it comes down to the same thing — when people have power they use it for personal gain. We’re a pretty nasty species.

    On the bright side, mine is a fantastic library that has recently opened a spiffing new building with extended hours, and where I can get just about anything. If they haven’t got it they’ll by it. (Wonder how long that will last?)

    1. It’s those bright moments, however brief, that we must hang onto when things appear bleak — as they do at the moment and as your analysis makes clear, Gert. We must keep our peckers up!

    1. There’s nothing like sitting in a lovely garden curled up with a book, even on a sunny autumn’s day, directing your attention maybe to the page, maybe to the changing colours or the birdsong or the peace that may surround you.

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