Guest post: The Travelling Suitcase Library: why I will always support public libraries.

Today’s guest blog post is from Jess Haigh.  Jess has worked in FE libraries for the past three years. She runs the Travelling Suitcase Library (feel free to link to me blog), which facilitates book swaps around Leeds and at various events. You can contact her through twitter @BookElfLeeds or email her

I’ve been working in libraries for three years now. Nothing can undermine the importance of libraries to me. I have seen women my age who have never read a book before in their lives become avid readers in a matter on months because of the work librarians do. I have seen young fathers learn how to bond with their children, refugees learn the language that allows them to stay in their country, and teenager’s faces light up when I slip the brand new copy of the latest popular series onto a shelf.

Yes, the libraries I’ve worked in have been in FE, but we work in partnership with the excellent public library service in Leeds, and I personally promote the public library whenever possible (though a part of me wishes they’d desensitise their books more!).

I once had a student who was permanently had her phone strapped to the side of her head, which goes against out House Rules, so you can imagine we got on like a house on fire.  She was bored one day waiting for her friend and her eyes drifted across to the Quick Reads display. She picked up a book and casually flicked through it before appearing to read it.  Just before she left she sidled up to the desk and borrowed the book; nothing was said between us but for the first time in over a year I didn’t feel like the mean bad tempered library assistant. She came in the next day to return it, I asked if she’d enjoyed it and for the next ten minutes gazed in joy as she started praising the book, and explaining how it was the first time in a long time she had turned her phone off; her friends kept interrupting her when she was trying to read!!!

This would never have happened had it not been for libraries. Were it not for libraries, thousands of people would have no access to computers, to books at a suitable level for them, to dedicated book lovers who want to help in whatever way they can on someone’s quest for knowledge.

On a typical day at the issue desk I can be asked literally anything, I dread to think how my partners sitting on the issues desks in public libraries cope! From people looking for ‘books about stuff’ (also known as That Pink Book You Know With The Thing On It), to the mature male student who was looking for both a book about wood and Princess Di’s biography (I think the first book was a cover), we are here to make people’s dreams come true.

Last February I started the Travelling Suitcase Library. This has grown in the last year from me sitting on my own in a pub with a suitcase full of books trying to engage fellow drinkers in a dialogue about their reading to a monthly book swap event that is also touring the country this month. I would never want to usurp public libraries, and if they had the funding then I would not need to do the TSL myself, because they’d be doing it already. Much is said about ‘volunteers’ making society what it is, but if we valued out librarians as much as we value our businesses and bankers, then we wouldn’t need to have people working for free, and everyone would be much happier.

Although I love running the TLS, and have received a very positive response to it, I’d give it up in a second if I thought I was contributing to the demise of the status of the public library. However, whilst the libraries in Leeds are shut on a Sunday evening, I’ll continue to haul my tomes to my local pub once a month, in the hope of spreading the word about how great reading is to more people.

Guest bloggers are not affiliated with VftL, and all views and opinions are their own.

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