Anyone who knows me knows how much I love books and reading. I’ll be honest, it’s a little bit odd that I don’t write about books more often but I’ve never really been one for writing reviews. However, more and more frequently I’ve become surprised by how few adults I come across own library cards, let alone understand why they would want one. This baffles me! I’ve used libraries from pretty much as soon as I was reading and having enjoyed them as a child the thought never even crossed my mind that I wouldn’t use them as an adult. But apparently it’s not a service that everyone makes use of, and libraries are one of our services that are at risk of losing funding. This post shares my love of libraries, through different ages and for different reasons.
I started writing this post a while ago, before lock-down started and libraries closed for the forseeable future. The first thing I did when I heard the libraries were closing was to go to our local one and choose a selection of different books to have access to during the lock-down period. I’m glad I did as reading is one of my favourite pastimes, particularly when you can’t go outside!
The library as a child
I have various memories of visiting the library as a child and delighting in picking out loads of different books and being able to change them for different books later on. My younger brother (probably because he was younger) didn’t quite have the same love for libraries as I did at that age. He took much more enjoyment in running around making noise, trying to unplug the librarians computer from underneath her desk, or the memorable moment when he managed to get hold of the date stamp (anyone remember those?!) and decided to stamp across the librarian’s desk. Despite my love of books, I don’t think we were her favourite family!
I also remember the reading challenges which ran each summer over the six week school summer holidays to encourage children to read whilst not at school. The idea was to read a book each week, collect stickers or stamps for each one and then win a prize at the end. I found the challenge really frustrating, usually because I read six books in the first week and was only allowed to collect one sticker. I just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed more stickers and that the point of the challenge wasn’t to get as many as possible.
Another clear memory of our local library was when I first joined secondary school and our English teacher encouraged us to start making the transition from the ‘children’s section’ to more challenging books from the adult section. It was surprisingly daunting making the short 5 metre walk to the other side of the library to browse the adult section instead of the children’s / young adult area. However, by this point the librarian of the desk-stamping days had warmed to us and was more than happy to offer me a few different recommendations. Thanks to our local librarian I discovered authors such as Victoria Hislop and Philippa Gregory whose books I still enjoy now.
Studying in the Library
As I made my way through school and exams became more important I started to appreciate the library as a source of knowledge, not just somewhere I could top up my to-read pile. Slowly I began to discover and make more use of the non-fiction section, giving me access to useful books for my A-level essays. I also discovered a wealth of other non-fiction books that you can access and which I continue to look at now. Travel guides, recipe books, books on crafting – there are a whole host of books which you may not wish to buy but can easily access through a library.
Once I arrived at university, the university library pretty much became my second home. It provided me with a space to work that wasn’t my bedroom and with access to a huge range of cross-disciplinary books for when I didn’t just want to rely on online resources and academic journals. I think it was my first subject introductory talk at university, or it might even have been on a university open day, where I was told that as an English student the ‘library is your lab’ and that was a phrase which stuck with me throughout my entire degree.
I find it quite funny now, especially as it took me a while to get back into reading after I finished my degree, that the first thing my housemate and I did after handing in our dissertations was to visit the library in the centre of York for some ‘fun books’! We also spent a significant amount of time in the Rowntree Park Reading Cafe, a wonderful spot in York which manages to combine green spaces with books and cake – a whole load of my favourite things in one go.
More recently, I’ve discovered libraries to be excellent places to visit and not just make use of. When James and I went to London together for the first time one of the stops on our itinerary was to go to the British Library to see the free ‘Treasures of the British Library’ exhibition.
Libraries in big cities also have a tendency to be inside some pretty impressive buildings. Last summer when we visited the USA, we went to both New York Public Library and Boston Library which were both lovely buildings and worth going to see because of the architecture. The Bodleian Library in Oxford and the John Rylands Library in Manchester are two that I would really like to look around at some point.
Useful Library services
Now that I’ve indulged myself by becoming a bit nostalgic with some of my library memories, it’s worth explaining why the library can be so useful. Different libraries will offer different services so it is worth checking to see exactly what you can access through your local library. However, the premise is largely the same – it’s a place from which you can borrow books for free.
Last year I set myself the challenge of not buying a single book for myself as my bookshelves were already overloaded and I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of any. I thought it would be a really tough challenge but it was fine because I made so much use of the library. My library card gives me access to every library in Bristol run by the council. We have our local library just around the corner, I pass another on my walk to work and the central library isn’t too far away from my workplace. Even better, I can order books online into my local library from the surrounding area for free! This is the service I make most use of as I simply type the books I want to read into the online catalogue and reserve them.
Libraries aren’t just about physical books, they also offer a range of different online services. You can access e-books, magazine subscriptions and audio books as well through library membership. When I was learning to drive I was also able to access a range of different practice theory test questions and hazard perception tests. All I needed was my library card number. There are also an increasing number of libraries who hold events for the local community. A lot seem to be aimed at young children or OAPs, but I have been to a couple of talks at one of our libraries which were interesting.
I’ve been surprised by the reaction visiting the library has received from neighbours, colleagues and friends. They always seem confused about why I would want or need to visit one, and that the services I’ve mentioned are free because they are covered by the council tax I pay. For some people libraries are a place to access the internet or a printer. They might be a place to take children and entertain them for a short while. They might represent somewhere warm and dry where you can meet other people. For me, they have just helped to encourage my love of reading and provide easy access to books.
When did you last use a library?