Sunday, 3 August 2008

Sunday Morning In The Local Library

I am very lucky. My local library is open between the hours of 10am and 4pm on a Sunday, and so I have been able to book a computer for a few hours to enable me to get up to date with my emails and read my favourite blogs, and most importantly, post something myself. This is a good example of a local authority doing things well for the benefit of the community. It's not a very big library, but there is a regular throughput of visitors each day, and having been in here a lot just recently because of my lack of an Internet connection at home, I have seen just how much this facility is being used by the local population.

I remember this library from my childhood. I've always been a great reader and to have bought me enough books to read and keep me quiet would have cost my parents a fortune that they didn't have, so membership of the local library was something that my parents sought for me at the earliest opportunity. I remember visits to this library with my father on a Saturday morning when I was very young. It was quite a long walk from where we lived at that time, but it was lovely to spend an hour or so looking for things that I might like to read, before taking the long walk home. I lived at that time, and do again now, in a part of London that is very hilly, so walking on the flat is quite a novelty for me, even though I spent more than 30 years living in Cambridgeshire, the lowest lying county in England.

In those childhood days I remember the library being filled with shelves of books arranged around the walls and in regimental lines in the centre of the various rooms that made up the Victorian building. I also remember the forbidding ladies who looked daggers at you if you inadvertently allowed your shoes to squeak on the shiny linoleum floor, or accidently dropped a book from your little hands that really weren't designed to both hold books that you had already selected as likely candidates for borrowing to read at home, and for those that you were still considering.

Everything about the library was manual, and time-consuming in those days, but it was somewhere that I loved. When my parents decided to buy their own house, you can imagine my delight to find that we were moving so much nearer to my beloved library, and by this time I was old enough to be able to go to the library by myself; there was only one major road to cross and that had a pedestrian crossing almost outside the library. Other children went to the cinema on a Saturday morning, or to dancing classes, or learnt to ride a horse, while I would disappear up the road to the library, safe in the knowledge that I could spend the whole morning there in a world of books and knowledge, and only have to leave when I got hungry.

In those days, libraries had extensive reference sections, full of encyclopaedias and other books of reference, that could not be removed from the library but could be perused for hours by a child with a mind anxious to learn. By the time that I was 10 I had read most of the books that attracted me in the children's library, so I used to bring my parents' library tickets with me so that I could borrow books from the adult section of the library instead.

Today, the library has very few reference books, they have computers instead, which allow you to carry out far more research than was possible in those dim and distant days of my childhood. what can now be achieved in a few minutes through a search on Google, would have taken days of searching and requesting of books from more central libraries in my childhood. You can borrow films on DVD and music CDs from the library today, something else that wasn't possible when I was a child, although the library did have a limited selection of classical music available on long playing records, and even some on 78s, believe it or not. The books are no longer arrange with military precision around the walls and the open floorspace, shaped racking gives a much friendlier appearance to the building and carpet covers the floor. Nor is silence the rule; although what chatter there is seems to be carried out in hushed tones. And in these days of electronic systems and barcode readers, it is no longer necessary to have a member of staff stamp your books with the date that they are due for return. No, today, you can go to a machine, have it read the barcode on your library card, then lay the books that you wish to borrow onto a plate to have the machine determine what the books are, almost miraculously, and then print out a receipt like that which you receive at the supermarket, only instead of listing items and their prices, it lists the books and the date that they are due for return. It is technology such as this that makes it economically viable for libraries to be open 7 days a week, and for quite considerable hours for some of those days.

One thing that belonging to the library taught me was that it was alright to read a book more than once. There were books that I read before I was 10 that I still read and enjoy today. One author who has been a favourite all my life is CS Lewis, whose wonderful tales of Aslan and Narnia are undoubtedly metaphors for God and Heaven, and yet they were adventure stories nontheless. I enjoyed a series of books about 'The Ballet Family' although I have no idea who wrote them and I am sure that it would be impossible to find them in a library now, and of course, there was Noel Stretfeild's 'Ballet Shoes' which was revived last Christmas by the BBC as suitable for family viewing, and indeed it was. I should say that I had no interest in learning Ballet, and would undoubtedly have been very bad as I am, and always have been, a bit on the clumsy side.

Reading is still one of my greatest joys. I read to educate myself, and I read for enjoyment. I read old favourites and I am willing to try new authors. I don't necessarily like all the modern bestsellers, and some authors whose early books I read avidly, I now find seem to have run out of ideas, and yet others get better with every book. I still read childrens' books and I loved JK Rowling's stories of Harry Potter; she is a writer in the mould of CS Lewis who can write a book for children, that adults will enjoy reading. I love detective stories, but they must be British detective stories. But even though I am a great reader, I do not particularly enjoy the works of Jane Austen, although I have read them all, and there is no way that you can persuade me to read anything by the Bronte sisters; I have tried, but they just don't grab me.

Books are a wonderful friend to have in your life, and I have no doubt that some of my old, and not so old, favourites have kept me going through the darkest days of my depression. If there is a vote for libraries, count me in, and I will be there to give you countless reasons why we should never let them be closed.

1 comment:

Lemon said...

And I'll be there to echo those reasons.

I miss my local library - there's something really magical about libraries - the way that there are shelves of little objects which suddenly become whole worlds when you open them.

The moment I'm better, I'm going to spend several days in the library - I may even camp there!