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The Guardian view on local libraries: a resource that must be protected | Editorial

The cost of living crisis has cast new light on their role as places not only to read and learn, but to keep warm. They cannot be allowed to dwindle

What is the purpose of libraries? One of the oldest, founded in Nineveh in the seventh century BC, was a repository for works looted and collected for the “greater contemplation” of the scholarly Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. One of the newest was opened this summer in Barcelona, as a centre for Latin American literature, in honour of a one-time resident, Gabriel García Márquez.

Such grand statements of intellectual identity and aspiration seem a long way from the UK’s cash-squeezed local libraries. These were established under the Public Libraries Act of 1850 to provide free access to information and literature for newly urbanised masses with time to kill outside the working day, but have struggled to make a case for necessary funding in the age of cut-price bookselling, declining belief in print, and repeated raids on local government budgets.

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