Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Libraries - A Reflection

This article originally appeared on the Nudge/New Books website. I regularly retweeted it on Twitter when discussions about libraries came up. Unfortunately when they revamped their website  articles and reviews of more than a few months old disappeared and cannot be accessed. So I am posting it to my blog because it is still valid and pertinent for me. 

 Update August 2019. Recently I've been using the library even more.  I've been scheduling library books into my reading timetable. And I've been taking my friend's grandchildren to the library too. It's been an absolute delight. At the moment they are one year old, three years old  and six years old respectively. The one-year-old races around at alarming speed for one so young, stops every so often, picks up an animal book and brings it to me. The three-year-old will find any Peppa Pig book and enjoy having that read to her. The books she picks for herself have  all been Beatrix Potter books because they are small. And the six-year-old is overwhelmed by the wealth of books available for her and she finds it difficult to make a choice. She got so many out the first time that yesterday she just took three out, feeling that would be better for her.  Currently they take them out on my library ticket. But we did get the appropriate forms for their mum to fill-in. Hopefully when she has time she will join them so that they are fully fledged members of the library.  The library staff have been so welcoming and yesterday gave each of them a sticker book. 

Photo by Louisa Hennessey via Flickr

I can't remember how old I was when I first visited the library but it was before I learnt to read. I know that because the books I chose I begged and begged my mother to read to me at most inappropriate times during the day. Our local library was a typical 50/60s build. A one story building with a glass elevation at the front.  It had an undefinable but most distinctive smell.  My late mother continued to use this library until a few months before her death and I remember taking her there once and finding that despite all the changes to the library the smell remained. 

We went to the library every Saturday, usually in the morning and usually with my father. I used to take out the maximum number of books that I was allowed. As a young child it just amazed me that I could come into this building and come out with an armful of books that I didn't have to pay for and they were mine, all mine for the whole week. And then the following week I could go back return them and take out another load. It got to the stage where by bedtime Saturday I had usually read the lot!  And I think that's where I developed the habit of rereading because I knew I would have to wait a whole week before I could get any more so I just used read them all over again. The system used was very different from the computerised, digitised systems of today. The books you borrowed were ticketed and date stamped to show when you had to return it by. Oh, how I loved those date stamps! My grandmother bought me my own with an ink pad once and I took immense pleasure from stamping all my own books. Playing libraries was a favourite game of mine. 

The library was the first place I was ever allowed to go to on my own. I don't remember how old I was but I do remember walking there and walking back with a bag full of books.  I felt pretty good about it. When I grew older I used to cycle there and fill my saddle bag to overflowing with books.  There was a generous bicycle park there which was quite unusual at the time. It would have been rude not to have used it! I used several of the libraries in the area where I lived  and I continued using those libraries thoroughly and regularly until I left secondary school. 

Sadly since then my use of libraries has been fairly sporadic. There was a time when professional commitments didn't actually allow me a lot of time for personal reading. A midlife change of direction which caused me to turn my back on my professional career and take up a clerical job rejuvenated my love affair with libraries. The office I was working in was directly opposite the town’s library. And I spent many a lunchtime in that building. I came back from lunch with armfuls of books much to the amusement of some of my less literary colleagues.

But now…… I struggle to remember the last time I visited my local library. I’m ashamed of that. I was a giver for World Book Night a few years back and the books were delivered there for me to collect. I went in a couple of years ago for a specific reference book.  And my local library is a truly wonderful space. (See picture above.) It's an old Victorian rectory of warm, red brick and it stands in beautiful grounds with a scented garden for the visually impaired, an enclosed childrens’ playground, seats aplenty where you can see the sea and watch the squirrels, so tame, they will sit by your feet to be fed.  It's a very peaceful place. With the local government cuts a few years back they wanted to close the building down but opposition and petition saved it. Even my brother who now lives in Shropshire signed the petition from all those miles away. The library remains open, manned entirely by volunteers.

So why don't I go to the library any more? Is it because I've joined the ereader/kindle generation? NOOOOO. I loathe them. It’s real books I love.  As a child growing up the family didn't have money for new books. So the library was a treasure trove. What’s changed? I buy books now. I guess as soon I started earning and there was any sniff of disposable income I’d buy a book. People gift me books for birthdays and Christmas. People pass books on to me. I buy from charity shops and jumble sales and second hand book shops. And of course there are the wonderful review copies of books I receive. And so my To Be Read shelves groan under the weight of the books there. I feel I must prioritise my reading. I know that if I went to the library I would not be able to resist the books there. I would emerge with the full complement allowed to me and struggle to read them by the return date because of all the other books I ‘need’ to read. 

I am fearful that ultimately, we may lose libraries altogether. And I have to take some blame. If I'm not using the library how can I bemoan its demise? So I’ve made a decision. I’m going to try and visit the library maybe once a fortnight and take out just one book. It’s going to be hard but I’m gonna try and do it. Because I think libraries are wonderful, valuable places. I don't want to see them go. I have so much to thank them for. Would I be the reader I am now without them?

Whilst I haven't managed the 'once a fortnight' I anticipated I am pleased to say that since I wrote this article I do now visit my library regularly. I go every three weeks but often I renew the books! But it's becoming a habit to go in there again. And that can only be a good thing. 

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