I don’t go to the library as much as I used to. There, I said it.
Then again, when I was a kid, going to the library was a Saturday morning ritual. Mum and Dad would see me off at the door to the children’s library (it was actually a separate room, how posh) and wander off to choose their own books. And I was alone, with a library ticket, and the freedom to borrow two – TWO – books!
I discovered all sorts of books at the library. I found Enid Blyton books in series I hadn’t read like the Adventure ones. Then I found authors I hadn’t read, because their books weren’t among the selection in the Co-op (unlike Enid Blyton or Elinor M Brent-Dyer or Roald Dahl). So I read Diana Wynne Jones, and Jan Needle, and Jan Mark, and Norton Juster, and Joan Aiken. And then I found Leon Garfield. Suddenly Enid Blyton seemed rather tame. If you haven’t read them, Garfield’s books are full of shady characters – and they’re often the heroes. The villains are proper slit-your-throat types who would make your blood curdle. I reread Smith recently, and it was just as shivery as I remembered.
The children’s library was presided over by a wonderful enthusiastic lady called Miss Frost, and to the best of my recollection she never, as she stamped my books, commented on what I’d chosen to read. Unlike my parents, who were never shy of asking why I was getting that book out again, or what sort of weird thing that was, or that surely that book was too young for me, or too old for me. I generally shrugged. Sometimes I didn’t enjoy a book, but I read it anyway. I learned what I liked, and what I didn’t – and I liked a lot of books.
That’s why libraries are so important. Kids get to try books which aren’t the ones being pushed in the bookshops, or promoted in the media, or being sold cheap by the Book People. Or they can read those books if they want, and their parents don’t have to worry about being able to afford them. Libraries give kids – and adults – choices about reading which otherwise they might not have.
Like I said, I’m not a Saturday morning library regular any more. But I visit often. Plus it isn’t just one library, as it was when I was a kid. As a family, we use at least four of the local libraries in Warrington fairly regularly, plus Liverpool Central Library (if you haven’t visited, you should). I read for pleasure, and also for research. The kids regularly borrow an armful of books each.
It isn’t always borrowing books, either. Sometimes I attend talks, or the kids are there for an event. We probably don’t scratch the surface of the many things you could do at the library. But we’re always glad to visit.
Sometimes, now, I’m at the library to give a talk, or to run a workshop, since I’ve taken to writing my own books. I wonder if that would have happened if libraries didn’t exist. Without the tastes, the reading habits, and the love for books I developed at the library, I doubt it. And just maybe someone will find my books at the library, and enjoy those, too.