When I was around 9 years old I wrote a poem about how great libraries are – I can’t remember anything about how it went other than that it had at least 4 verses and it all rhymed. It was for a competition at Castleford library which I came either 2nd or 3rd in (I still remember feeling cheated about that, the winning poem was very short and went something like ‘a book is like a cheeseburger, different layers like cheese’, books aren’t anything like burgers; it didn’t even rhyme).
I’m not sure why this came into my head today, perhaps because I was enjoying a library book, or perhaps it was tweets from some of my favourite comedians about campaigns to save our libraries from potential closure? Either way I started to reflect on my own relationship to libraries and how important and great I still think that they are
This is Castleford library
When I was growing up Saturdays used to involve going and getting some books, and then going to Woolworths and getting a pick and mix. I don’t actually remember when I first used the library, but until I was around 11 I spent a great deal of time in the childrens’ section taking out teen fiction and educational books about DRUGS and CONTRACEPTION which felt pretty exciting at the time. Every summer the library ran a competition to read 10 books in the summer holidays, and after each stage you got a little prize like a rubber, and your name went on a leaderboard.
When I got to 13 or so I felt too old for children’s books, but a bit intimidated by the grown up bit of the library – how would I know what to pick? There were far too many books and scary older people in the grown up bit. Instead of taking out books I rented CDs, 1 pound for 2 weeks and put them on tape or minidisc (little did I know that I was committing a crime). My first Gorky’s album was a borrowed copy of Barafundle put on minidisc – the CD/video library allowed me to discover new music in those pre-internet days.
In my mid teens I still used the library, eventually starting to read grown up books. I have one particularly good memory of hanging about in Pontefract library
reading the backs of Mills and Boon books aloud with my best friend, which at the time I thought was the height of comedy. When I got to 17 I did a Project Trust Gap Year, volunteering for a year in another country, in my case India. To do that I had to raise around £4000, around half of which came from various trusts and funds which I found through huge tomes stored away in the reference section at Leeds Central Library. I spent at least 3 or 4 Saturdays sitting with these big books writing down various addresses.
In India, I realised the value of books as I didn’t have a ready supply of reading material, and read more or less anything I could find. At University I stereotypically avoided the library ; except the national library – they have everything and they bring the books to you! Now I have an English and History degree, and I use the library often again. I realise I am privileged, I also appreciate that some libraries could do more to engage with those who may have barriers for use of their services. The fact remains, libraries have enriched my life and been fundamental to my education. I want them to continue to be. Being able to borrow books for free is brilliant, and necessary.
This post originally appeared on Liz’ blog.