I grew up in villages and small towns, with irregular buses and few
shops, none of which sold books. None of the bigger towns nearby had
serious bookshops, either, and I loved books.
My salvation was the library, and especially the library in
Radcliffe-on-Trent, Notts. In memory it was huge — I was junior school
age, and any roomful of books was huge to me. The head librarian
understood little girls who loved to read, and with my mother agreed to
let me use my mother’s tickets to borrow from the adult section. I read
Lord of the Rings and The Ascent of Man, Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist,
Animal Farm and Vanity Fair, and the library always held more exciting
books. Later on — by this time we’d moved to Lutterworth, Leics, where
the library was smaller, I learnt about inter-library loans. The
Lutterworth library tracked down books I wanted for my school history
project — books about Syria and Turkey and Lebanon. It found me the
missing volumes of series I loved by Michael Moorcock and Roger Zelazny.
I learnt to scan for yellow-spined Gollancz hardbacks and to browse the
non-fiction section for other kinds of stories — biographies and
adventures and histories. Most of the books I read weren’t in the small
bookshops I had access to, and I couldn’t have afforded them anyway.
Then I went to university and discovered the joys of access to a
copyright library. Over the years, the Cambridge University Library has
kept me abreast of my field, and let me read books I’d missed or never
been able to find, has, through its long shelves, led me to scholars and
ideas I might never have known, and been the vital foundation to my own
non-fiction writing. In 2003, it tracked down for me a copy of a rare,
self-published memoir in French, from a library the other side of the
Libraries hold up the lamps by whose light we expand and grow,
grant us glimpses into other lives, support our skills and our
understanding, speak across distance and time and race and culture. They
hold the keys to civilisation. Let’s not let them fail.
Dr Kari Maund