Earlier this week I was at the local shops grabbing some essential supplies when I walked past the library. On Tuesdays they open late, until 7.30, so I thought I would pop in and have a browse. I thought I might get something to read, though as it happens I didn’t find anything that piques my interest or fitted my mood. Nonetheless, I spent a pleasant quarter of an hour scanning the shelves and just enjoying the peace and quiet. Off to one side, a couple of people were sat at PC terminals browsing the net, or checking their emails. The staff busied themselves replacing books on shelves and generally tidying up. As I say, I didn’t choose any books in the end, but all the same I was really glad I popped in.
I grew up with libraries. My Mum was – and is – a voracious reader and has been a weekly visitor to the library since Jesus was in nappies. Naturally I was taken along there too, as soon as I was old enough to read. I was always at home there – once I was of an age where I could go unaccompanied, I used to spend hours in there, reading each and every spine on each and every shelf until I’d found exactly the right selection of books to take home and read.
It was at the library, aged only 11 or 12, that my Mum (in an unusually liberal moment) told the librarians I was now allowed to get adult books – anything I wanted. I’d seen a school friend carrying a copy of “The Shining” and decided I wanted to read it too. God bless my Mum, she gave me her blessing and it was game on.
I soon discovered you could order books in if they weren’t on the shelf. I ordered in horror novels, books about the occult, thrillers and adult adventure stories that I almost certainly shouldn’t have been reading… and I devoured them all.
After reading came writing – spurred on by all the amazing books I was reading, I wanted to write my own stories. So I did (to varying degrees of hackneyed awfulness, no doubt). I’m still writing (obviously), but if my Mum had never taken me to the library… well, I’m not sure I would ever have written anything more than a birthday card.
I take my own children to the library now. We’re going tomorrow. The nearest one is only a five minute walk away and has a dedicated children’s area with an excellent selection of books, DVDs, even CDs. Not to mention a pretty good box full of toys, so that a visit to the library is not just about books, it’s a fun trip out. The kids love taking their books to the counter and handing over the card (they share one). And most importantly, I’m helping them to learn to love books. My eldest has just discovered Asterix – tell me an Asterix book looks better on a Kindle and I’ll call you a liar.
Nowadays it’s all about Kindles, and there’s nothing wrong with that – they will undoubtedly be a massive boost to literature, because people who would never go to a library or a bookshop will now download a book to their e-reader (and that can only be a good thing) – but can a flat screen ever replace the beauty of a book? The smell of the paper, the pleasure of flicking open the cover, the inexplicable joy of flipping it over to read the blurb? Personally, I think not.
Libraries are now seen as something of an anachronism by certain sections of society. They are one of the first targets when it comes to cuts in public funding. But if we ever got to a place where there were no more libraries, I feel that we will have lost something special – something precious. Libraries HAVE moved with the times – they are no longer just about books (if they ever were). The libraries in my home town have a superb selection of music – both pop and specialist – as well as a wide range of DVDs, web access, craft sessions, reading programmes for both children and adults, literary events and, quite frankly, research and local history sections that the internet could only dream of replicating.
I hate to sound worthy but it really is a case of “use them or lose them” – the humble public library is one of the greatest resources available, and we can ALL use them. Give it a try – you’ll be glad you did.
Posted by Nick Boldock.