A few days ago, the BBC reported that around 600 libraries in England have been closed due to budget cuts. This is something that has been in the news for a while now. I find it very sad.
I have always loved libraries, since as long as I remember. My love of libraries was probably the first sign of my bookish personality.
My earliest memory of being a member of a library was when I was very young – perhaps five years old – and I took part in the summer reading programme. We got our worksheet stamped whenever we finished a book, which created a path through a jungle. At the end, I got a certificate.
I loved going to the library. It was big and bright and full of interesting things. It was also very near where my dad used to work, and sometimes when we visited him, I was allowed to go across the road to the library, which felt like a big journey to me. I can still remember the smell of the library, and how it felt safe and warm. A refuge.
By the time I was a young teenager, we had moved town. I spent many long hours in the little library by the old church. I remember moving from the teen section to the adult section, and feeling like a new world had been opened up to me. That’s when I discovered Ann Rice’s ‘Vampire Chronicles’, and became totally obsessed.
Our school library was old, dark and dingy. The librarian was sour-faced and mean, a scowling shh!-er. But the school eventually renovated it, and employed a new librarian. The new library was wonderful. Cold blue had been replaced with warm red. New desks, new swivel book-shelves, new books! And a new librarian. One that was passionate about books, kind-hearted and always smiling. She would accompany our English trips to see Shakespeare plays.
The library became a popular refuge. A neutral meeting place for friends in different form groups. I remember writing a collaborative short story in the library for an English assignment. I remember long, philosophical conversations with my friends, full of wild ideas and big questions.I don’t have fond memories of my university library. It felt crammed with books, and void of personality. You could never find the book you wanted, as someone else had inevitably checked it out. There was no warm community feeling. The computer area was out-dated and always crammed with stressed students.
Now, my local library is the Millennium Library in Norwich. It is hosted in such a beautiful, impressive glass-fronted building, which also contains a BBC radio studio, coffee house and pizza restaurant. Located next to the town hall, there is always plenty going on at the library, from art exhibitions to market stalls. It’s got a great array of books, and it is always buzzing with activity. A great place, even if I did have to pay £6 in fines last week…!
“I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement…” – Isaac Asimov
Libraries are a place of community, refuge, information and knowledge. The service they provide is invaluable, and free! The BBC are reporting that the mass closing of libraries may in fact be unlawful, stating that it is a legal duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient service under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. Whatever the case, I hope we don’t lose our libraries. It would be a massive blow to our culture and community.