Monday, 7 February 2011

Save our libraries

It was Save Our Libraries Day on Saturday so I dutifully went down to mine to try to save it. No-one seemed to notice. The librarians were more interested in showing me how to use the DIY checkout than thanking me for my solidarity. There were not people queuing to take out their books. The shelves were not bare.

I knew there would not be any well-known authors doing sit-ins, because my library is not one marked for closure (although there are 20 in my county that are, which is 20 too many). But I romantically hoped there might be some empty shelves, or some sense of occasion.

It did make me remember, though, when every trip to the library had a sense of occasion. These days, I drop in for ten minutes after work. As a child, Saturday was library day. It was like being given a present every week. I'd make myself travel-sick in the back of the car because I couldn't wait to get home to start reading.

There have been a lot of noble words recently about how wonderful libraries are. My local library isn't very wonderful (until you consider the alternative). It's too small for the size of town. You have to look hard for literary fiction among the genre novels. The computer books are out-of-date. The staff are not particularly friendly or helpful.

But I still came out on Saturday morning with an armful of books. Free! To take home! And I read two newspapers that were not my usual one, which is always useful information: to see how the other half live; to know what the enemy is thinking.

And, even though my local branch is not well-stocked (or thinks that most people in town don't want the books I prefer), I can order anything from the entire county collection for the price of a bar of chocolate. They email me when it's ready to collect, and they email me when it's due back. And I can renew online, and continue doing it (which is why I keep forgetting that Sophie Grigson's Vegetable Bible does not actually belong to me). I can access the OED online from any computer. For free. I can take out 20 books at a time. Free.

Despite the appeal of the internet, libraries continue to be my education. Before the internet, they were the only source of information available. Research potential employers. Find holiday accommodation. Fill in the gaps in your education (the summer I left university, I covered 20th century history, modern English literature, and feminism).

As a teenager, I did my homework after school in the public library. And not just because the boys were there. Because information was there. As a child I borrowed as many books as I could - we didn't have much money, and the Christmas book token was the only chance I got to actually buy a book of my own.

I borrowed fiction (the complete works of, well, everyone I liked). Non fiction (cooking figured heavily). And facts pretending to be fiction: a series of stories about twins, designed to educate about different countries and cultures (probably not all politically correct); a series of novels about young women starting their careers (definitely not politically correct: whether the job was a florist or a writer, there was always a boyfriend in the last chapter). And eventually, I learned a book at a time to read adult literature (John Wyndham, two steps forward; Agatha Christie, one step back). Until I was ready for my university reading list...

I took all this for granted. Don't let them take this away.

No comments:

Post a Comment