I mentioned in my last post that my source for some of my embarrassing book addictions in the library and it got me thinking about how much I love libraries and how much they seem to currently be under threat. I should declare all my personal interests up front – my first ever job was in my local library and library work helped me eat through university.
I’ve always loved libraries – in all their shapes and sizes. I remember my first visit to one when I was about 5. It was a travelling library in a small van and I could spend about 1000 words describing this magical place to you in great detail almost 30 years later. I remember just how excited I was by the concept that I could access any of these books for free and that they would even let you take them home! I’d already read everything that was remotely age appropriate – and quite a bit that wasn’t – at home and was desperate for more things to feed my book hunger. The library visited every other week and within a short period of time I had double the normal number of book tokens and the librarian was increasing their stock rotation to keep up with me. When it came to a choice between the library and ballet classes for me there was no contest. It was a librarian who introduced me to the grown up titles once the Judy Blumes ran out – I remember being huddled under the duvet reading Jane Eyre after my bedtime and hitting Jane Austen soon after. When everything else was too intense, the library was a refuge and gateway to other worlds.
There have since been many libraries in my life – academic ones, places of brief employment, libraries in country houses on Sunday afternoons and the many varied libraries here in Southampton. I know that people have lost their awe with the written word – we have been too spoiled by our easy access to information. I’m a Google junkie as much as the next person and libraries have been the victims of their own success – because they were there and everyone could access information and education we all no longer feel that we need them. Some have become internet outlets but the days of people needing that access are probably already declining, as are the days of needing to rent DVDs. But I am scared of a world without libraries. I know it’s almost irrational but, like books on paper as opposed to a screen, I just don’t want to imagine a world where all that knowledge isn’t available to me. So, like the people on the Isle of Wight last year, I think we should all use them and show that we care. I just checked my online account (you see, they really do have ways to make it easy for you) and I’ve now taken out 500 books from Southampton libraries alone. I’m going to keep going and push for 1,000.