chapter  14
11 Pages

Past, present and future

So while an older world is dying, the new world still struggles to be born. Modern society is still, in many ways, an incomplete project, irrespective of talk about postmodern culture. For quite early in the study we realized - an impression more than confirmed by some of the press reactions to the consultative report - that public libraries, like many other public and commercial institutions, carry with them a heavy baggage of popular perceptions, misperceptions and mythologies, which it is still generally difficult for them to escape or dispel. British society is still heavy with what are perceived to be ageing and unmodernized institutions - the public schools, British Rail, the DHSS, the House of Lords, among many examples that could be given - which have all been mythologized for good or bad within the British psyche. So too has the public library. One of the more self-punishing myths of contemporary British intellectual culture is that of "the decline of the public library", a powerful nostrum that is five parts nostalgia, four parts metropolitan myopia, and only one part fact. The strength of a received and powerfully influential set of associations and beliefs about the public library came across very strongly in some of the press comments on the Borrowed time? report. It would not be difficult to argue that this mythology is now deeply counter-productive to the library cause, and what is urgently needed is a "repositioning" of the library within contemporary social attitudes, and the urgent need for public librarians to cultivate a "new set of friends". It was always the intention of this book to develop the intellectual framework for this new culture and the intellectual rationale for public library provision for the future.