Libraries are my lifeline. What do they mean to you?
The other month I was scouring the shelves of Stockton Central Library and I came across a small, neat little publication titled, simply, The Library Book, in which twenty-three well known writers voices their opinions on libraries and their role in all of our lives.
The book kicked off with a powerful forward by Rebecca Gray in which she stated;
Books and stories are lifelines, and libraries house those lifelines, making them available to all. They are important not just for the books, but for the space and freedom they provide, as well as the navigation and advice provided by librarians.
By the time I’d finished reading Gray’s introduction, I was fired up to take some form of action. I was already volunteering at Stockton Central Library as part of the Summer Reading Challenge, but wanted to do more. Much more. I wanted to play a role in getting the word across about how vital libraries are in this day and age, especially in this day and age.
It’s an absolute outrage that to stay open many libraries are now having to be staffed by volunteers. It makes me sick to the stomach that so many have been closed down all together. It’s an act I find absolutely abhorrent. If I didn’t have access to libraries when I was growing up, I have absolutely no idea where I would be now. My family couldn’t afford to regularly buy new books, (we got them at birthdays, if we were lucky) and our three weekly (if not more) visits to the library were an absolutely essential part of family life. The librarians knew us all by first name, and we were members of no less than three libraries at any one time.
The excitement I’d experience before a trip to the library, well, I would literally bounce on the spot. You should have seen me when I got my teenage card a year early. It was like all my Christmases and birthdays had come at once. I filled my arms with books on vampirism, lycanthropy, paganism and, because I thought I was cool, The Satanic Bible. My world changed overnight as this new knowledge rushed into my system.
I know, for a fact that libraries continue to provide essential nourishment on so many levels. I see it with my own eyes when I volunteer. This year we have actually run out of the reading challenge packs because so many children have come in to take part. But it’s not only children who need the libraries to stay open. From 0 to 99 people need libraries.
In Zadie Smith’s piece, titled Library Life, she talks about the library provided a ‘gateway to better opportunities.’
Like many people without a lot of money, we relied on our public services. Not as a frippery, not as a pointless addition, not as an excuse for personal stagnation, but as a necessary gateway to better opportunities. Like millions of British people, we paid our taxes in the hope that they would be used to establish shared institutions from which all might benefit equally.
Caitlin Moran makes some further good points.
And in their places, we will have a thousand more public spaces where you are simply the money in your pocket rather than the hunger in your heart. Kid – poor kids – will never know the fabulous, benign quirk of self-esteem of walking into ‘their’ library and thinking: ‘I have read 60 per cent of the books in here. I am awesome.’ Libraries that stayed open during the Blitz will be closed by budgets. A trillion small doors closing.
Libraries stayed open during the Blitz and look at what’s happening now. What the fuck happened to this nation?
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Anyway, back to what I was saying before. I wanted to do something and so decided that the literary magazine I had previously put on hold – Beautiful Scruffiness – would re-emerge, and I would dedicate the new issue, issue 6 to libraries and what they mean to all of us. But to make this magazine happen, I need submissions. I need your stories, your poems, your memories, your grandparent’s memories. I need your thoughts, your ideas your proposals about what we can do to keep libraries from becoming another Pound Shop or Costa. I want your art depicting your life in libraries and the life in libraries.
If you feel that this is something that you would be able to be involved in, then please have a read of the poster and share it with anyone who you think might be able to contribute. I want this issue to be spectacular and I want to send copies of it to the dark over lords putting these changes through. I want to make the bastards wince.
Before I get too ott and punch a wall, remember to get your hands on a copy of The Library Book. Go into your local library (if there still is one) and hunt it down. If they don’t have it, ask them to get it in. This book ought to be in stacks by the front door of every library we have left in this country.