Lend me your ears (but not necessarily your books) because I want to have a quiet word about libraries.

Ever since it was announced that most of Swindon’s libraries would be closing, I have been trying to remember the last time I borrowed one of their books.

It’s nearly 20 years since we enrolled our kids, so they could borrow some dinosaur books or something, but we haven’t borrowed any books (about dinosaurs or otherwise) since we were kids ourselves.

If I don’t own the books I need, I go online, so I was puzzled when talk around the closures seemed to be mostly about book circulation.

I am living proof that libraries are now about far more besides.

Although I’m not actually a member, I use the Central Library a lot, due to my fascination with and involvement in local history, and I consider the excellent Local Studies department and its stunning collection of Swindon-related stuff to be absolutely vital to a town that claims to value its heritage.

My fingers are still crossed that Local Studies escape the cuts.

As a student of local history I can see a huge irony in the council handing the running of much of its library services to the people.

Anyone who knows the history of the Mechanics’ Institute will tell you that the visionary people who set up that organisation, more than a century and a half ago, made a public library a priority - before public libraries, as we know them, were invented.

And if you trace the history of the Mechanics’ you will find that their library was also about far more than lending books.

They arranged talks and events, gave access to newspapers and periodicals - on a scale virtually unknown in other towns outside London - and they even, at one stage, installed a wire system, similar to the ones found in national newspaper offices, thus keeping them abreast of breaking news in the outside world.

If they had had the necessary technology, men and women of the Mechanics’ in Swindon probably would have invented the internet.

Access to information was actually only the tip of their social iceberg, but it says everything about them.

The visionaries of Swindon’s railway age rarely found any challenge insurmountable, were often decades ahead of the rest of the country in their thinking, and in terms of medical care, for instance, founded a proper health service 101 years before the NHS.

The current situation with the library means we have come full circle.

It’s clear the council is unwilling or incapable of providing a full library service any more, and the people of Swindon are being asked to help out.

But we should understand it’s not so much taking it over as taking it back.

And I can’t help thinking that members of the Mechanics’ Institute would have seen the current reinvention of public libraries - because that’s what it is, effectively - as an opportunity, as much as it is a challenge.

Of course, I am not saying lending books isn’t important or that it shouldn’t continue, but I am saying that now is the time for Swindon people to see the wider picture and seize the chance of getting ahead of the game again.

I was surprised to find myself complimenting councillors on making a fund available to help people reinvent their local libraries, and although it’s a shame the timeframe is so short, you could also say it’s not as if we didn’t see this coming.

There are two ways for us to achieve it: become one of the people working to give libraries a bright future - or LEND them every support.