I met a friend in Birmingham the week before last. We hadn’t seen each other for two years so not much was done besides talking, eating and drinking but we did find time to go and see the new library in Centenary Square. It’s not open until September but I wanted to see it partly because it looked such an extraordinary building in the photos I’d seen and partly because I needed to see with my own eyes the marvel of a new library – and an enormous one at that – at a time when many local authorities are shutting them down faster than you can blink. The building wasn’t quite to my taste but it was heart warming to see so much space devoted to the idea of reading free for all to enjoy, particularly as I’d been told by another friend who has recently moved to Herefordshire that further draconian cuts are planned to the local library service there leaving only one library open in the entire county. Weekly family trips to the local library were an essential part of my upbringing – they helped make me who I am. It’s the same for many of my friends and family as it is for others, I’m sure. Books may no longer be affordable for many hard pressed families, if they ever were. How are children to discover the joys and rewards of reading? For both the friends mentioned libraries have been crucial – one was for many years a bookshop manager, the other is an academic researcher. None of us would have achieved what we have without libraries. Surely, they are the mark of a civilised society. For Birmingham readers it may the best of times come September but spare a thought for the poor readers of Herefordshire.