Public library and other stories by Ali Smith

Confined to barracks during the pandemic of 2020 many people have found time for reading in a way not possible in their normally frenetic lives. ( Research finds reading books has surged in lockdown | Fiction | The Guardian ). At the same time, community services have come to be valued during this stressful past year rather than being taken for granted. Will public services, though, continue to be funded adequately after the vaccine sets us free from a deadly virus?

We live in times (2008-2020 >) of swingeing public sector cuts. Local Authority chiefs are forced by central government to bring the hatchet down on local government spending. Public libraries have taken a hammering the length and breadth of Britain, a trend carefully documented in a blog by Ian Anstice available here

Over 800 public libraries have been closed since 2010 (Britain has closed almost 800 libraries since 2010, figures show | Libraries | The Guardian) (More have been axed since this Guardian report was published in December 2019) At the end of December 2020 it’s obvious that the staggering costs of the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit combined will have to be paid for. No prizes for guessing that local public services will be the subject of brutal cuts. The nostalgic whimpering of politicians, writers, academics and the successful who all benefited from their own local public library as children seems to make no difference. We must all get used to the reality of private affluence and public squalor. This directive is combined with the glib and ill-informed assertion (from people who are not readers) that ‘it’s all on the internet anyway’.

Ali Smith ( and (Ali Smith ( has written this richly inventive new collection of stories. In them she rightly wants to know why books are so very powerful. What do the books we’ve read over our lives – our own personal libraries – make of us? And what does the unravelling of our tradition of public libraries, so hard-won but now in jeopardy, say about us?

The stories in Smith’s collection are about what we do with books and what they do with us: how they travel with us; how they shock us, change us, challenge us, banish time while making us older, wiser and ageless all at once; how they remind us to pay attention to the world we make. Public libraries are places of joy, freedom, community and discovery – and right now they are under serious threat. They are being run down by stealth. With this brilliantly inventive collection, Smith joins the campaign to save our public libraries and celebrate their true place in our culture and history. You would hardly expect me to do anything other than wholeheartedly recommend this book. I do.

Enquire at your local public library (if by the time you read this there is one). Check if this important title is in stock by consulting the online catalogue at Home | South Lanarkshire Libraries (

Otherwise consult  for full bibliographic detail.

240 pages in Hamish Hamilton

First published 2015

ISBN 978-0241237465

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Ali Smith

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