It’s National Library Day, so I thought I’d set down a few of my own library memories.
I can’t really remember life before the library was part of it. From my very early childhood I used to go with my dad to our local one, a beautiful Victorian building in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. It had a great children’s section and between us, me and Dad would choose books for him to read to me. We would get them out on his ticket, but it wasn’t long before I was pestering for my own ticket. Although I was too young “officially” to join the library, as the staff knew my dad (everybody in Hucknall knew my dad) and they were keen to encourage a young book lover, I was allowed my own tickets. I was three years old I think.
From then on, Saturday morning was library time. Dad would leave me (and later, when she was old enough, my sister) in the children’s section while he went to choose his books. Generally speaking, he was finished first as I found it hard to choose just a few titles from such a treasure trove. As I learned to read for myself, I graduated from the picture books and bedtime stories kept in a kind of box in the corner to “real books” on the shelves. It was my favourite part of the week. I loved everything about it: browsing the titles, reading the blurbs, maybe taking a peek inside for a preview, even the agony of having to whittle down what was normally a quite long list of possibles to the small number of tickets I had. If the decision was just too tough, my dad could sometimes be persuaded to sacrifice one of his own precious tickets so I could take home an extra book. Those are some of my best memories from childhood.
During term time, the number of books I was allowed was generally just about enough to last me until the following Saturday. School holidays were different, and usually required a midweek visit too. Parents and library staff (who all knew me by name) occasionally persuaded me to join in some of their “holiday activities” but really I just wanted to choose my books and take them home to start reading!
I can trace my childhood journey by the library departments I spent time in – from the children’s section to non-fiction and reference when working on school projects or just discovering things for my own interest, to young adults, to the proper adult fiction section. Getting my first books from there made me feel so grown up.
In adult life, I’ve mainly used libraries for reference, preferring to buy my fiction. But I have always used them, when studying or in my work, which requires a lot of research. A library is always a place I feel at home, surrounded by books. Even if I don’t intend to read or borrow one, just browsing and soaking up the atmosphere is a wonderful feeling.
We are very fortunate in Birmingham to have our brand new central library, which I absolutely love. But my best memories will always be those early ones, in that lovely Victorian building that remains a library serving its community to this day. Whether they are old or new, grand or modest, large or small, libraries are special places that we should treasure, today and every day. I cannot imagine my life without them.