I cannot remember the first book I read or was read to me. Way too many decades ago, way too many books. I will say I can’t think of life without knowledge of books. Growing up as I did in a middle class home of ‘bookaholics’ it wasn’t as if there was a shortage or lack of knowledge of these wondrous things. Every room had bookcases overflowing with them. Not necessarily suitable for my tender years but I read some of them, understanding maybe a tenth. It had been a lean time for books just before and after I was born. A five year global war had tended to put the writing and publication of books, especially children’s books, on the back burner of priorities. Compared with today’s children we were impoverished indeed.
So along with Victorian morality stories, original Grimm’s (and they were grim, take care when exposing today’s Disney-nurtured youth to them) and colonial adventure stories, from the home’s shelves, I got my fix from the public libraries. They had been around all through my life and that of my parents and grandparents. I and my friend lived many long hours in these buildings.
With limited pocket money and few opportunities of earning more, the libraries were essential if we were feed our voracious appetites for the written word. I always have been, and still am, a reader who likes to possess, mainly because I enjoy re-reading and also have moods when only one book will do; if they sit upon my shelves they are ready and spruced when my hand reaches for them. However, to discover these new authors as a child I could not have squandered my meagre money on ‘don’t knows’, I would borrow, read if enjoyed, save and buy. My library habits helped to fuel the book industry!
Along with the novels, these hallowed halls were where one went for the unusual, the exciting, the ‘well what do now!’ books. Many of the books I had inherited at home, lingering from the past, had been small books of geography, history and cultures written for children (mainly to show how wonderful the British Empire was!) with coloured!- yes coloured – pictures of the crudest sort. They were just made of paper maybe 20-30 pages long and full of easily digested facts and figures. There were also books on transport through the ages, animals of the countryside and so on and I am sure the children of today have similar – hopefully not so preachy or vainglorious – but this was all we had. Picture books such as we have today were few and far between, any drawings we had were just that, line drawings. TV was practically non-existent, computers unheard of let alone the web. There was cinema, but not much else to show us the world we lived in. The libraries were where we could go for these books. I developed a lifelong love of those reference shelves.
The 1850 Public Libraries Act was passed mostly for the improvement of the public through education. Education, ah now that is the rub. Can all our technology provide the education we crave? I sometimes feel as if I am wedded to my computer and will be the first to howl if we are banned from them. However not everyone, whatever the powers that be like to think, has easy access to a computer. Not everyone shares their world with emails, texts and tweets. Indeed not everyone even wishes to. And when the world runs out of electricity or electrical storms hit the grid?
Take any small child to the local library, tell them they can choosewhatever they like and take them home and mummy doesn’t need to afford it because it’s free, and their eyes will light up. Read to them, teach them to read themselves. With the provision of many well written books and maybe some that aren’t, who are we to judge? With reading sessions and readers groups, libraries connect us to the written word in a way electronics never can. I don’t know how easy it would be to teach children to read in front of a screen, not impossible certainly, but the companionship of an adult’s arm, or other children, while entering these new worlds for the first time is all part of the experience. I don’t mind audio books or e-books they both serve a purpose, they are both used in our family, and I don’t feel they will replace the actual books. Closing libraries may well serve to drive ‘books’ for ever into the hands of those who are financially secure. Those who can afford them, who want to afford them.
In this world of books are so many places, fictional or not, to wander, so much accumulated knowledge over the centuries and world to sip at. So much beauty, expertise and inspiration. Not every library can hold it all, as a child I had tickets for at least four libraries, but each can be the introduction to this accumulation of marvels.
Much has been said about cutting the less privileged members of society from their local small libraries. As with the closures of small post offices the effect of closing the smaller branch libraries can actually mean dispossessing these people further. They are those who do not or must not drive, those with no handy regular bus service (they are also being cut), the disabled and those children who come from homes where books are never much considered. Progress it seems must always have a profit for its bottom line, maybe it always has, but people should never be about monetary profit, people are about profit for themselves, families, communities and ultimately their countries. The profit shows up years later in the case for books. Later when the child that was led into the library and told it could choose whatever it liked and take it home for free, when that child grows and has fun, learning has developed its curiosity and then contributes.
An end note: as exciting as it was to receive that first published book of my making, the moment I heard our local county library was going to stock it was more exciting still. My connection, from nearly six decades ago, seemed complete.
This was first posted on 5th Feburary 2011 in support of our libraries on my blog at
I also blog on the Sefuty Chronicles,writing and self publishing on
you can also follow me on