My Life In Libraries
Yesterday was National Libraries Day, so I thought I’d write a blog about how much libraries have influenced, guided and comforted me throughout my 25 years, and how they continue to inspire me as a writer and a young woman, trying to make her way in this mad, old world.
Back in the day, when I was tiny, witty and blonde, I lived in a little place called Thornaby Library. Okay, obviously I didn’t live there, but it was practically my second home. I can remember it being quite dark and next to a butchers, where we’d get sausage rolls and a bone for the dog. I raced through all of the Puddle Lane books on the bottom shelf in the kids section (how class were those books!?) and swiftly moved on to the mysterious older kids shelves, where I had to really stretch to reach the books. I remember, distinctly, My Babysitter is a Vampire. I read and re-read that book. To be honest, I don’t think I ever took it back. It was my first foray into the world of the supernatural and I loved it. For the record, I was a weird little kid, who liked things strange and creepy.
Stockton Library was another favourite haunt as we were growing up. It always smelt funny, and there would be a tramp having a nap in the corner, with a newspaper over his face. When the Riverside Festival would happen during August, we’d spend the entire week dividing our time between the high street and the library. Our car would always be littered with books.
I was seven and a half when our little family moved to a little hamlet called Margrove Park three miles outside of Guisbrough. Our new home was overlooked by ‘The Big Woods,’ and was a radical change from our terraced house on a shit street in Thornaby. At our new library haven, I managed to get a teenage library card a few years early and bloody hell, I was the proudest kid in the world. I took out all the books they had on Vlad The Impaler and Elizabeth Bathory. On one occasion, my mum went to the library alone and came back with The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis. I was mocking it in the school bus, thinking there was absolutly no way she could pick a book I would like. I was wrong. Very wrong. I was reading out the first sentences, expecting them to be naff, but I fell silently almost immediatley, and read quietly all the way home.
I remember finding the Satanic Bible and feeling really anxious that I wouldn’t be allowed to take that one. (I was allowed, by the way, but I didn’t get much, if anything from it. Didn’t stop me putting up pictures of Anton LaVey on my door. Oh no, I was dark).
Being such frequent visitors we were on first name terms with the librarians. My mum and little brother ended up being immortalised on an advertising board, which you walked past every time you went in. On one occasion, I bumped into my English teacher on time. She was looking for books on Shakespeare. I darted off, returning a few minutes later with an armful for her. The library was burnt down by some little shits and I remember sobbing my heart out. I was truly devastated. By the time it was rebuilt, I was spiralling into anorexia. I would take out cookery books just to look at the pictures and to copy out the recipes into notebooks. I never made any of the stuff, though.
Moving to Billingham meant joining another new library. Billingham library is quite a sad little place, but it has its quirks and I quickly found them. It was a wonderful place to work on my ‘novels’. I’d have the upstairs, dusty, dank smelling ‘reference library’ to myself. It was at that time when the internet was just being discovered by households all over the country, so I’d go to the library to avoid a massacre at home. It took a long time, and I mean a long time to crack the ice with most of the librarians there, which was a real shame.
Middlesbrough College Library at the Marton Campus was my hideaway for two years while I studied catering (it was that or health and social care. Apparently I wasn’t intelligent enough to do anything else) and wrote in my spare time. Any spare time. In ten minute breaks I was logging onto a computer so I could get a few lines down on whatever novel I was working on. Those were a weird few years. I’d feel as if I was doing something wrong when I’d go to the literature section and literally sneak. How daft, eh?
Middlsbrough College Library at the Acklam Campus. For two years I was in this library five times a week. I knew every corner. Some of the librarians transferred from Marton Campus and it was like having a lovely extended family.
When I moved over to Carlisle for uni, I actually went to the desk in the main library and told the librarian that it was the best collection of books I had ever seen. The only problem was the noise. And as time went on, the noise became louder and louder. It was smack bang in the centre of the Lanes Shopping Centre, and some people just liked to come in to yap.
When I was studying for a Creative Writing BA at the University of Cumbria, I was stationed at the Brampton Road Campus. Now, the library was phenomenal, but come third year, the books and shelves were sneakily shipped away to make space for an in-flux of Graphic Design Students. Words fail me when I try and explain the massive impact this had on me, as you can imagine. It was a fucking disaster.
Stockton library has recently been re-vamped, and is an example of where things are heading. There is no desk to take your books out at. Instead, there are self-service checkouts which scan your books and print out a receipt saying when they need to be returned. If you don’t want to interact with another human being, you don’t have to. In one way, I like this. But then again, I miss the friendly banter that went on before, when the desk was the prominent feature.
The librarians look like lost souls now, their eyes flickering, looking for a poor sod, any poor sod who needs help. They had their place before, behind the grand desk, and it felt right. But now, they have to flutter around a computer stand, not quite sure what to do with themselves. Back in the day, when I joined the line to take books out, I used to tap on someone’s shoulder and tell them how much I had enjoyed the book they were just about to take out. If you do that now, you’re likely to be looked at weirdly or punched in the face. One thing I miss most about there not being people behind a desk anymore, is that lovely sound of the stamp punching a number onto the return ticket at the beginning of the book. It’s the simple things isn’t it, in the end.