I would live in a library if I could. I love the cathedral-like hush — a temporary reprieve from the noise and insanity of the crazy world outside its doors. People wearing thoughtful expressions as they peruse the shelves, or sit quietly leafing through books as though they are on some kind of spiritual journey. It feels so right somehow.
Besides the basic three Rs I don’t believe school taught me much. Text books were out of date before they even reached the classroom and showing initiative by reading books not listed on the curriculum confused the teachers and was frowned upon. So it was during after school hours spent at the local library of wherever my family happened to be living at the time that I educated myself. Geography, history and the sciences were favourite topics, none of which were adequately covered at school, I felt. I filled my own library worth of exercise books with notes. I read about Churchill, the American Civil War, the exploration of space. I devoured books on the
spectacular engineering feats of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and was utterly fascinated by the work of Marie Curie in the field of radioactivity. Here was a woman whose achievements would help people all over the globe at a time when it was a man’s world and I was deeply moved. I wanted to be a writer and hoped that all this knowledge I was acquiring on my own terms would one day aid me in my endeavours.
I moved to London in search of a job. Not being on the electoral roll there I was unable to join a library anywhere in the city. It would be no exaggeration to say I was devastated. I was like a butterfly with broken wings. Unable to explore new subjects on a mere whim or do research that was not work-related it felt like part of my life was missing.
Relocating to the north of Scotland in 1995 was the best decision I ever made. Becoming a member of Orkney Library & Archive was as easy as buying a pint of milk. I felt absurdly proud when I was handed my new library card. Founded in 1683 it is the oldest free library in Scotland, but it is also the most innovative and forward-thinking example of its kind I know. In the current economic climate when so many libraries are under threat it has a healthy membership and the services it offers are hard to beat. From Bookbug sessions for the youngest members of the community and storytelling for slightly older children to the Book Box service for housebound folk. There are regular reading groups which meet monthly at the library as well as the recently established online one in association with Faber and Faber. Named
appropriately At Home with Faber the publisher provides the books which members discuss on a designated blog and Twitter from the comfort of their homes.
Held every two years, Discovery Week began as a way of attracting new members, but has proved popular with regular library users too. During this period CDs and DVDs can be borrowed free of charge, there is a book sale and events for children. This year the week was launched with a storytelling event. Throughout the five days Radio Orkney broadcast its daily show in front of a live audience from the library foyer and on the Saturday two popular Scottish crime writers held a writing seminar that
was both entertaining and informative.
Libraries are very special places and vital to the wellbeing of communities. Please let’s do all we can to ensure their survival.