I've been thinking about libraries a fair bit lately and they are also in the news, as they struggle against cutbacks. This in itself seems a strange thing. Why are such places being targeted when the level of literacy in the UK is falling? Politicians talk about slashing illiteracy rates and yet with the other hand take away the very places that could help them, but that rant aside, I've also been thinking about what it is that appeals to us about libraries. What makes them special?
For me, I think part of it is happy memories. The town where I grew up had a small library housed in a temporary building, but they'd squeezed in plenty of books and it was always busy. Of course, back then, we were still in the era of the 'Sssssh! libraries. But I have always loved peace and quiet so it never worried me. Perhaps, psychologically, that was another part of the appeal!
My mum would take us to the library regularly when we could stock up on books. I would choose four and happily hand over my library card, feeling very important and grown up. 'Stamp Stamp' would go the librarian, adding the return date to the flap of paper stuck to the front page, and then off I would go, eager to find a comfy spot at home to sit down with my 'new' books! I was a voracious reader, and it's probably just as well that the lending limit at the time was only four, or I'd have been after getting a lot more! When I signed up to to my nearest City library a while ago, I was told the lending limit was 40 books. 40! I did enquire as to whether there was anywhere to back the car up to!
I loved going to the library after school. I couldn't wait to get through the two sets of double doors and enter that hushed little building, and veer off right into the children's section where I would look through the books and, more often than not, find one of the little red moulded seats that had a round hand hold in the back of it, and read another whilst I was waiting.
There was a particular book of fairy tales that I often used to get out. It was this big, thick orange covered book and I seem to remember there being one story about some mice and one of them comes to a sticky end. It makes me think that they were more along the lines of the Grimm brothers' tales but I can't remember if they were all like that. I don't think so, but I do remember that book came home with us a lot. Looking back now, I expect my Mum's face fell when she saw that we'd chosen the same book again. She didn't drive and we lived at the top of a hill! But she never said a word. The pros of us reading outweighed her discomfort at lugging books up the hill, at least in her eyes. Thanks, Mum x
I still love going to the library. The days of shooshing have gone, but a lot of libraries still have a quiet reverence about them. Of course, they've also had to diversify, offering computer equipment for use, dvds and audio books for hire and holding sessions for mother and toddler groups, and so on. Our local City library also screens Indie films. Books have become just one of the many things offered by these wonderful places.
I've been on a bit of a library book kick recently and I still get excited now when I know I'm going to library, 30 odd years later! If I see or hear of a book I think I'd like to read I go and find it on Amazon and put it in my wish list. That way I have a constant reference. Once I've read them (from the library), I just delete it off the wish list. Of course, when books are popular, you may have to reserve them but 50p to reserve a new release hardback is a lot better than the 10 pounds upwards you'd be paying to buy it. The excitement of a 'library notification' email dropping into my inbox is quite tangible! It seems that, when it comes to books, I am quite easily pleased.
Of course there are still books I'd like to buy. I'm a total book addict but finances and space often mean you have to compromise. It's also a great way to try new genres, and authors without worrying as to whether you are wasting your money. And, of course, the most important issue is that if we don't use these wonderful resources, we are going to lose them. That cannot happen. It mustn't happen. Libraries make people happy. They educate people, and provide a sanctuary from the noise of the outside world, mobile phones and all the other extraneous noise that it's sometimes good to shut out for a time. Don't let them disappear.
So, am I the only one who gets excited at library notification emails? Do you have happy memories of your early visits (or later ones!)?