THE ramifications of Covid-19 and the closing down of the world are considerable.

From the horror we could see the emergence of a better social and environmental order.

Meanwhile, a resonant aspect of this is that there is a clamouring for books. People have more time to read, and feel an urge to use their imaginations rather than become bogged down by endless, repetitive news feeds.

To public frustration, online firms are running out of titles, such as Polly Samson’s splendid evocation of early-Sixties Hydra in her novel A Theatre for Dreamers. William Boyd has seen a surge in demand for Restless after the Duchess of Cornwall urged it as a novel to see out the lockdown. Independent shops, such as City Books in Hove, however, are proving valiant in taking and delivering orders. Do use them.

All this is redolent of the Second World War, which saw a similar demand for books. In those circumstances, shops remained open, as did public libraries (and pubs).

Of course, this is different and, one hopes, will not last as long. As it happens, all this has come amid the public consultation for the local Libraries Plan, something which councillors insisted should last longer than first proposed. This is crucial, all the more so as it will include a delayed report on the vexed subject of book selection and allocation in the various libraries here, currently done by wholesalers Bertrams.

In particular, many people find the fiction shelves offer slim pickings, far from the delight and the surprise these once provided. Surprise is a very key part of the discovery which is the hallmark of a good day. As we know, these past two decades have seen much library controversy. One thinks of the time when lovely books were thrown in a skip because there would not be room for them in the Jubilee Library when it opened (they were rescued by a heroic builder who made several journeys with them in his van to a Hove charity shop, and the story emerged nationally).

More recently, at Christmas 2017, we saw a planning application for Hove’s Carnegie Library put through at a time which made public comment difficult. With all this and more in mind, it is essential that the Libraries Plan be put on hold until the public consultation can be properly completed, as the councillors insisted, and it can all be presented to them in a fit manner rather than on the hoof.

People relish books. We must take this opportunity to ensure that our libraries system is better placed to cater for this, by restoring the rôle of librarians in book selection. As Zadie Smith wrote, “neglected libraries get neglected, and this cycle, in time, provides the excuse to close them”.

Christopher Hawtree Westbourne Gardens, Hove