Tim Coates, Britain’s Prime Minister in waiting, will not be surprised to know of this story. My stepdaughter has finished her degree and after a well-earned (self-funded) holiday in Thailand, this week moved to London to look for a job. She’s living in a friend’s flat in Croydon and will be temping while she applies for next year’s round of graduate schemes in her chosen profession. In order to carry out her research for this process, she would like to join her local library. But she can’t get a library card. While she was a student, her official address was ours, because she moved so often that it was safer for her mail to come to our house and for us to redirect it. Hence, she can join Kingston upon Thames library, but that is not near where she now lives. Similarly, she can join the nearest library to Hay on Wye, where her mother lives — but that isn’t a stop on the Northern line. If she were to have utility or local tax bills at her current abode, she could get a library card. But she’s only staying there temporarily until she gains employment and can buy or rent her own place. So she’s stuck.
No wonder the library system is running down and out of users, when it is made so difficult for anyone to join. I would gladly pay the Croydon library a security deposit to the amount they think reasonable in order for Eleanor to have a library card. But their system does not work like that. It is hard enough for young people to live independently and to gain employment these days. Why on Earth are things made needlessly more difficult for them by the very organisations that exist to promote learning and literature, and that should be one of the beacons of any civilised society?