I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in my hometown recently. I happened to pass the library as I walked through the town centre. Even years later, it was reassuring to see that it looks just as it did when I used to visit.
Growing up, the library was a huge part of our family life – my mum and dad always read, and from as soon as I can remember, encouraged my brother and I to do the same. Of course, back then, the choices available were somewhat narrower than today. We had to rely on the ranges available in the local bookshop, what gems could be found lurking at car boot sales or charity shops, or wonderfully, the long shelves at the library.
I read voraciously. There was no way I was going to be able to afford to buy new books at the rate I was reading, so being able to use the library was such a godsend to me. Not only that, libraries offer a lack of risk. If I was to save up my pocket money for a book, then the pressure for that book to be everything I hoped it to be was so much more considerable. At the library, if I picked up a book off the shelf that I didn’t enjoy, then nothing had been wasted, other than my time, and I could use that to learn where I might rather go instead. The library also offered me guidance – librarians work there because of a passion for reading, and by simply asking for recommendations I found myself reading things that may have otherwise overlooked, broadening my horizons and expanding my tastes in a way that I might not have done otherwise.
Every summer holiday the library ran a “reading challenge”. Over the course of the holidays children would be given a selection of books to work through, with the challenge of completing them all before going back to school. My brother and I entered every year, and I remember proudly having certificates showing I’d completed the challenge being tacked to the wall in my bedroom. These are now in the loft at my parents’ house, along with old school books and sports trophies…
Shouldn’t writers hate libraries, though? All those people just borrowing books, instead of paying for them? Well, even setting aside the loan fees that authors can receive, you will never find a writer upset at people reading their stories. (Legitimately, of course – pirates can all have visited upon them a plague of boils and flatulence.) I think of the library in the same way that I think about listening to the radio. Curated culture, that inspires and fascinates, and leads people to new discoveries, and maybe life-long passions. If someone were to find one of my books in the library and they enjoy it, then they might make the next step to purchasing one next time, or buying one for a friend or loved one. I know I did.