The following article was submitted by Helen Ball.
As a child I used to love Saturday afternoons when my mother would take me to the library for an hour or two. As she perused Virginia Andrews novels or chatted with the librarians I would curl up the same purple, threadbare armchair and get lost in the works of Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl. The thrill of sifting through those books, the painful deliberation of deciding which ones would come home with me and the pride I felt upon receiving my first library card all stay with me today. But never could I have imagined how important this building would become to me as I grew up and became a mother myself. This is my story.
I became disillusioned with my old job as an administration office manager within weeks of returning from maternity leave. I halved my hours but still found myself desperately missing my 9 month old son. The childcare fees were extortionate and I felt that working part time meant that I wasn’t able to fully commit to either my working role or my role as a mother. After my second child was born my mind was firmly made up and I decided to work for myself from home. I’d done a little freelance copywriting, blogging and content providing in the past so I found it easy to pick up work and by the time my kids had started school I had regular clients and was earning good money from my freelance writing.
The only problem was that I found it hard working from home. I was constantly distracted by the housework (or TV) and was used to the routine of going out to work so staying at home somehow made it harder for me to manage my time and schedules. Now my kids were in school I had no reason to stay in the house – I could go somewhere to work. But where? I remembered the library and that mysterious second floor that I’d had no interest in as a child because it was full of reference books and serious looking people tapping on computers. And it was on that second floor, in the same snug corner behind the geography textbooks that I set up a makeshift office for myself. Of course I had to pack it up every day but the routine of going out to work in a quiet place with no distractions made me so much more productive. This year I am in the drafting stages of my first novel and I just know that most of it will be written within the walls of the library.
Working at the library during weekdays meant I often saw the same faces. Like me, some people would come to study or work. Others would come in the morning to read the papers. One man from a homeless shelter came every day to read in the warmth because he had nowhere else to go. As time progressed I formed friendships with some of the people I regularly saw there and we spoke about our work, our families and our lives. Writing can be a very sedentary, lonely job that can become isolating quickly so for me, those brief, hushed conversations between the bookshelves or in the cafe at lunch were invaluable. By spending so much time at the library I also got to learn about the variety of groups and workshops they host there during the week. On more than one occasion I abandoned my work and joined in the the book club and the knitting class and once again got to meet like minded people and learn new skills.
For the kids
There are also a lot of activities on for babies, toddlers and children in my library. My youngest child adores story and rhymetime and my eldest was over the moon when he got to meet his favourite author, Nick Sharratt, when he visited on a tour. During the school holidays we always try to take part in at least one organised event at the library and visit regularly so they can pick out their books just as I did as a child – the other day I even spotted my daughter reading in the same purple chair that I used to curl up in. With studies indicating that reading more books improves life chances for children I am eager to encourage my kids to spend as much time as possible in the library and luckily they seem more than happy to oblige.
The figures that indicate over 10% of our libraries are at risk of cutback and closure from local councils don’t just concern me, they terrify me. I rely on my library as do countless others, each for various reasons. People argue that with the rise of technology and e-books libraries are outdated and simply not needed anymore but this couldn’t be further from the truth. They are about so much more than books – they are a place of comfort, refuge, interaction and an integral part of the community.