A few years ago I wrote a post on another blog reminiscing about joining the library when I was a child and had already read everything on the book shelf we had in our classroom.
I was seven and the librarian informed my father I wasn’t eligible to join until I was ten. Fortunately, my teacher somehow persuaded them it was a good thing for a library to encourage children to read and I was given my first library card. Remember the little cardboard pocket into which went the ticket from the book being borrowed?
My love for the library was born the first time I stood in silent awe (in those days, of course, libraries were silent places – but why would anyone need to chat when faced with the delicious task of choosing books?) in front of the shelves of books, literally spoilt for choice. Going to the library became the highlight of my week. Over the years, the library gave me freedom – to inhabit other worlds, to go on adventures, to lose myself in the joy of reading. ‘Going to the library’ was always something I was allowed to do without having to answer twenty questions on the who with, what will you be doing, when will you back theme.
I was reminded of all this when on Rosie Amber’s blog the other day (she has an excellent book review site) she mentioned how infrequently she now uses her local library since she became a book reviewer. This sparked a lively conversation in the comments section, which got me thinking. In my blog post of a few years ago I confessed my library membership had lapsed but, alarmed by the threats to close libraries all over the place, I had re-joined.
The post received a good few comments and I think I possibly felt more than a little smug about my role in saving our library from closure. All of this, however, was before I fell in love with my Kindle. It was a gift, given by the DH after the nightmare of my running out of books on holiday abroad. This was never to be allowed to happen again. And it hasn’t.
On the other hand, reading Rosie Amber’s post made me realise I have not visited my local library for a considerable time. I’m not quite sure why this is so. I still love the feel of a print book in my hand and when I was Christmas shopping on Amazon, treated myself to a few new books – there is nothing quite like the smell of a new book! And if I’m doing research my first port of call tends to be Google.
People still use their local libraries but they borrow far fewer books than they did when I joined at the age of seven – but that WAS over 50 years ago. Interestingly, Scotland now has its first national strategy for public libraries which includes 18 recommendations which include ensuring wifi is available in every library, developing partnerships with advice services, job centres and enterprise groups and exploring alternative approaches for generating financial investment. I didn’t actually see the word ‘books’ mentioned.
Has the time come to stop being nostalgic about public libraries and what they have meant to us? Let the local authorities continue to reduce the opening hours to save money and change them into something else? Is it too late to go and find where I put my library card?