The first library I remember was small, narrow and a homage to ‘70s design: swirly orange wallpaper, fake wood panelling and strip lights so bright they made my head hurt.
I loved it.
My four year old self wasn’t fussed about wallpaper and, seeing as it was actually the ‘70s at the time, I couldn’t blame the council for embracing contemporary trends in interior décor, however naff they might be. Besides, it was a damn sight more cheery than the rest of the concrete shopping parade on my Granny’s estate (newsagent’s – shielded by a vandal-proof metal grille, pub – boarded up) plus it had books. And people. Which suited me and Granny just fine, because I liked books and she liked to chat.
Later, as a grown-up, I worked in a number of different libraries and met lots of different library users: academics, researchers, students, school children, parents, jobseekers, the homeless. Recently bereaved pensioners – like my Granny – who just wanted to chat. I served some proper famous people, too, from off the telly and everything. I could tell you their stories, but I won’t, because the library experience that most defined my life wasn’t linked to a particular customer or one particular day at work. No, it was the first time I entered that little concrete library with its swirly orange wallpaper and its shelves full of books.
Which is why, Mr Cameron, I don’t buy into a ‘Big Society’ where these unassuming, little libraries are seen as a drain on resources. What I do believe in, and what I see around me every day, are lots of small societies – on city estates, within suburban streets, amongst rural villages and towns. These communities are local, and despite often being as small and narrow as the first library I ever knew, they deserve to be served by libraries that are local too. In ten years time, if someone decides to take their grandchild to the library for a book, who (or what) will serve them? I hope they’ll still have a local library to go to, staffed by people who know and care about the service and its users. The thought of that not being the case has the same effect on me that those harsh ‘70s strip lights did as a child.
It makes my head hurt.
Clair Humphries is a writer who loves libraries. She shares her home with a husband and far too many books.