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From Neil Pearson

Neil Pearson

Many of you may recognise Neil Pearson as Dave Charnley, the Romeo of the very funny 1990s newsroom sitcom, Drop the Dead Donkey or, more recently, as the TV production boss of the Bridget Jones films or, as his impressive IMDb will testify, in one of his many more films and TV shows too numerous to mention here. But Neil is also a committed bibliophile – as a reader and collector – an antiquarian book dealer and firm champion of libraries. That’s why he makes an exceedingly good President of our Association. Neil is coming up to his third year as President and we sincerely hope that he will consider going forward for a further three years when we finally hold our postponed Annual General Meeting at the Leeds Library later this year. During these very difficult and challenging times, not just for this country, but worldwide, libraries are striving to provide the best services that ‘staying at home’ can allow. As President of the Independent Libraries Association Neil has a few words to share with all of our very special libraries, the Staff, the Trustees, the members and all the users of these quite wonderful places of culture brought about by their collections.

“I very much hope that you and your families are all safe and well during these challenging times.

I'd often wondered, if some sort of lockdown ever became necessary, how long it would take me to read every unread book in the house, watch every unwatched DVD, and drink every undrunk bottle. The last question was settled very quickly (about a week); the others, it seems, are going to take a little time. But even if you're lucky enough to have an unopened book or two at home to keep you going during these difficult times I'm sure that, like me, you are by now missing the atmosphere and conviviality of libraries: a leisurely browse, a surprise find, a place to think, and the company of friends.

But at a time when circumstances compel us all to remain physically apart, those same circumstances seem also to have brought us closer together. Although their buildings are currently closed, ILA librarians have been in regular email contact with each other over the last few weeks, comparing experiences and exchanging strategies, and have been working safely and diligently from home to ensure that the core services their libraries provide to subscribers are maintained wherever possible.

 At the London Library, for example, although books cannot be returned at the moment, a skeleton staff is operating under strict social distancing rules and managing to send out books requested by members. (This books-out-but-not-in strategy is unlikely to result in an empty building any time soon: the London Library, by some distance our biggest member, is home to more than a million books). And all over the country our smaller libraries, catering more specifically to local needs, are keeping in very close touch with subscribers through their websites, providing more and more links to e-books and online cultural activities, as well as vital local community services. And for those subscribers without internet access, regular newsletter mail-outs are a welcome lifeline. 

Libraries are more than just repositories for books. They provide a lifelong place for people to think, to learn, and to relax. And libraries are also meeting places, turning reading and discovery into activities which can be enjoyed in the company of others. For now these pleasures are on hold. But happier times will return, and when they do our librarians will be ready to welcome readers back into the buildings which give us all such pleasure.

Until then, stay safe and well,

And all good wishes,

Neil Pearson

About the author

Independent Library Association

The Independent Libraries Association was founded in 1989 to further the conservation, restoration and public awareness of a too little known but significant section of our cultural heritage. It aims to develop links between its constituent members by means of co-operative agreements, newsletters, social gatherings, seminars, workshops and meetings.

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