As a child an off hand comment always stuck with me “A drug addiction would be cheaper to feed than keeping you in books”
I was often accused of eating and devouring books, another statement as a child I could never quite understand. Why on earth would I want to ‘eat’ a book, sure they smelled great but reading them was much more appropriate than trying to eat them.
But as I look back, the comments began to make sense. As a child I could devour up to four books on a good day in the school holidays reading for up to 12 hours straight oblivious to the world. I often emptied the local Barnados charity shop of whole shelves at a time to keep up with my expensive addiction, but even then I was craving more and bar turning to a life of crime I wasn’t sure how to fuel my costly addiction to ink, paper and worlds of infinite possibility.
I had noticed a building, old and dusty looking next to the local swimming baths, I had passed it many times and never had the courage to venture in until one day a school visit opened my eyes to all I had been missing.
The first thing I can remember was the smell. Even today in this digital age of kindles and computers there is no comparison to that smell. Paper and ink, the heavenly smell of books. If they could bottle it as a perfume i’d wear it everyday.
Next, was the view that graced my eyes, shelves that seemed to touch the heavens and books in every corner, of every space calling out to me as I ran my fingers down the spines.
First thoughts from my younger self was that whoever owned all these books must be both very rich and very lucky. That was when the world was opened up to me. I found out they didn’t belong to a person, they belonged to EVERYONE. Thats right! All these beautiful books were here and I could read every single one.
Endless opportunities to learn about the past, create the future and imagine the impossible all under one roof, guarded by wonderful people known as librarians. The superheroes of my childhood that opened doors to limitless adventures and knowledge to a child who craved to escape through the pages of those stories.
But my local library wasn’t my only salvation, oh no. For you see I started this scary institute called a secondary school, and there with it came the sanctity of the school library. My world was soon opened up further to wizards and daemons and even hobbits from the shire, I spent my lunches and breaks sneaking chapters here and there to get me through the bullying and isolation that can cruelly follow you through puberty.
Without libraries, I wouldn’t of had the therapy of escape to get me through the loneliness of being an only child, or the solitude felt by the many who are bullied at school. And without those escapes to pull me out of my desperation who knows how I would have coped or where I would have ended up instead of sitting here writing this today? When the world is constantly telling you what you won’t achieve or how you are pre-destined to be a nobody who came from no where, a simple place like a library can not only offer sanctuary but also a light and a path. Whether its fact or fiction you are looking for. Whether studying to be a doctor but unable to afford the texts, or trapped by the hardships of the economic crisis and desperate to escape to a better world, libraries provide so much.
Libraries are not just bricks and mortar filled with books, they are the heart and soul of communities.
Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent read them fairy tales, if you want them to be more intelligent read them more fairy tales.” Some of the most intelligent and influentially world changing people in history grew up reading stories about the impossible. Therefore does it not seem reasonable to achieve great things we must believe in the impossible too?
I was recently asked if I would speak at a meeting about saving one of my local libraries. A beautiful library i’ve attended several times to share my books, that is threatened by the savage government cuts that seem to value little in regards to the future of children and their opportunities to succeed and flourish.
It got me thinking about the question ‘Why should we save our libraries?’
A silly question I know, everyone I speak to says we need our libraries, and I agreed and of course, you can see my many reasons why, but it got me to thinking about why other people feel its important. So I sent my question out in to the world and here are some of the replies.
Firstly I messaged Cathy Cassidy, Author and great supporter of libraries and asked her to tell me in one sentence why she thinks we should save our libraries. Her first response, which made me giggle and is probably one of the reasons she’s such a good writer was, “I can never say anything in one sentence!!” and this is probably very true of libraries, there isn’t just one reason for saving libraries. There are infinite reasons. From the scientific, statistical facts about how illiterate and unemployable our children may become, to the personal reasons of treasured memories and community cohesion formed in these unique places.
What Cathy did say though (in a few sentences might i add 😉 ) was this. “Libraries are awesome – and they belong to us, all of us. We must not allow them to be closed… it’s like slamming the door to the future on our children. xxx”
A great story teller and author, George Kirk, just like Cathy cheated too when asked why we should save libraries (seems to be a theme with writers not being able to stick to one sentence, but I suppose where would our great stories be if only told in one sentence!) She started with one word. Civilisation. She then added “They (libraries) house our history whilst building our future by creating opportunities for social and intellectual mobility for all.” Quite a striking statement, I mean where else can you so freely and openly discover our past and create our future under one roof? It got me thinking, so I carried on my quest pestering more people for their thoughts.
Now you may think I’m biased as my first two views are from writers, and we know writers like libraries (or hopefully they do!) So I put my question out to that big wide world of Facebook and Twitter and here are just a few of the responses I got from around the United Kingdom:
Deborah Underhill, Photographer, “Library’s are a source of knowledge. I have memories from when I was tiny going to the library with my parents and sometimes grandparents to get my weekly books, I love it. A book has a much better feel to it than any Kindle page.”
Montana Brookes, Home schooling mum, “Peace and Quiet”
Angie Walker, Chairwoman for #savenewarthilllibrary, “Libraries are not just about borrowing books, they’re about promoting social inclusion”
Kirsty Jayne, Make up Artist, “I have always loved reading but I don’t always have spare money to buy new books, I always have my library card though.”
Sally McIntosh, Teaching assistant and mum of two,” They are awesome retreats where you can get lost in a book with no interference.”
Dr Mike Leahy, TV presenter and adventurer, “Schools may teach us how to read, but without books and libraries we will never learn to understand!”
I even managed to sneak a quote from one of those elusive Librarians, you know those guardians of the great libraries, the rare and unique treasures that we are currently trying to preserve.
Graine Miller “I’m a school librarian – so I’m a library geek through and through. Books build bridges, allow you to try on other lives – and I get to be a tour guide for visitors to those other worlds… Isn’t everybody’s life improved by being around the more thoughtful and perceptive people that readers are?”
But the quote that had to be my absolute favourite in response to my post, came from award winning author Kathryn Evans, “Google has nothing on a knowledgeable librarian.”
Those superheroes from my childhood throwing it down against the tyranny of technology oppressing the imaginations of the masses.
These are people from all walks of life, different ages, genders and life experiences but all with one thing in common. All with the same value of libraries and their impact on the future.
Not surprisingly, not one single response so far out of the many I have received came back with, we don’t need libraries or why bother saving libraries.
Neil Gaiman recently wrote an article on this very subject and one thing that really jumped out at me that he wrote. “If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.” Is this really what we want our legacy to be? Is this the gift that we leave for our future generations the devaluation of knowledge and culture and imagination. How can we hope to invent or develop or evolve if we cant imagine these things in the first place.
So I think the question we should actually be asking is not why should we save our libraries, but why should we even think of closing them in the first place? We wouldn’t close the hospitals or schools, and we certainly wouldn’t even dream of closing Buckingham Palace as part of our necessary cut backs so how can we justify damaging our future and that of future generations by closing libraries?
Thank you to all those who took time to help me with their quotes and feedback and of course all of you who are fighting around the UK to #saveourlibraries