This week there has been a lot of love for libraries on Twitter and Facebook, fuelled by National Libraries Day and by the threat that public funding cuts pose to libraries across the UK.
When I was a child, the library was the place that I loved the most, after home. We couldn’t afford many books, although my parents believed passionately in the value of reading. When I was tiny my Mum would always place me on her knee when she read to me. Her thinking was that if you cuddled a child while reading they would associate books and reading with love. My Dad once told me ‘money spent on a good book is never money wasted’ and my pocket money would be spent on second hand books in the wonderful ‘Ystwyth Books’ in Aberystwyth. Still a treasure-trove for all book-lovers.
Because we couldn’t afford many new books, and certainly not enough to keep up with the reading habits of children (children devour books), twice-weekly visits to the library became a habit. I would browse the shelves on a Saturday, take out my maximum four books and then go back mid-week after school to restock.
I loved our local library. It provided me with fiction as a child, reference as a teenager and even had a stock of plays and music scores tucked away in stacks behind a secret door. The librarians were always ready to encourage and advise, and there were newspapers so pristine that I thought they must have been ironed, hanging over wooden rolls in the middle of the victorian reading room.
Libraries matter. Children in particular can go through four, five, six books a week. How many families can afford to keep up with the reading habits of a book-hungry child? For older people they provide access to fiction and to reference advice. For the 25% of the population who do not have access to the web at home they provide free access to the internet. They matter very much and it is right that we should plead their cause in times of cuts.
I will end with a story that sums up what libraries mean to me and why I will always love them. When my niece was little she had a special name for the library.
She called it The Story Place