I’ve been showing a lot of love for my local library on Instagram recently, which caused me to pause and consider the reasons for this adoration of these homes of books. In no particular order:
- They’re free. With free books and computers, no one is restricted by money from accessing the wealth of creativity, inspiration and knowledge available. This also brings a freedom to try the unknown – different genres, learning new skills, joining a book club, borrowing a seasonal gardening or cookery book.
- The smell of the books. One person’s ‘musty’ is my nostalgia for childhood days spent picking my next read or returning to an old favourite again. Those yellow tinged pages speak of heritage and connection, of others who’ve thumbed through them, cried their own tears, startled others with laughter as they enjoyed the very book in your hands now.
- The chance to read books I don’t feel the need to own or read again. Some books stand as monuments in your life; they changed you, impacted your thinking, stretched your emotions such that you thought they’d never spring back. These books need to sit on our bookshelves. Other books are pitstops on the journey, bringing relief and entertainment for just a brief while. The library is perfect for the latter and enables you to freely discover both.
- They reduce resource use. Hundreds, thousands of people using the same books rather than having individual versions printed, packaged, transported, discarded.
- The discovery of new authors. Sebastian Barry’s ‘On Canaan’s Side’ came as a recommendation; my local library was able to provide. Having loved it I was delighted to find more of his novels in the library, so I quickly picked up another (a caution: his books are beautiful with a large heaping of melancholy, the kind that leave you bereft on finishing them. Two Sebastian Barry novels in one month was one too many.).
- They exist for the community. They’re not about profit or promoting any agenda beyond putting creative works within access of the community. They promote local activities and events, they bring people together at a time when our neighbourhoods are filled with isolated individuals.
- A place where books are valued and available to everyone is a happy place to be.
Sometimes I have time to potter about, perusing the shelves but sadly more often I’m dashing in after work and out again to get home for the next thing. To make sure I don’t leave disappointed at not finding something I want to read I do two things when I visit my local library:
- Reserve books in advance. This not only guarantees the desired book will be there when I go in, it also means it’s on the ‘Reserved Books’ shelf, resulting in even speedier borrowing. This also prevents me falling foul of the categorising system. When is a book just a ‘novel’? When does it have sufficient love triangles to become a ‘romance’, mystery to become a ‘crime’, or suspensions of disbelief to become ‘fantasy’? I have yet to unpick the delineations our librarians have created; reserving books means I don’t need to.
- Browse from a list of recommendations I keep on my phone. Since I was a teenager, I’ve relied on others to filter out the plethora of less-good books by only reading those that come recommended by people I trust. Within the vastness of the library’s offerings there will inevitably be books that aren’t to everyone’s tastes. The list makes for time efficient browsing and reading; savings hours spent on a book I’m unlikely to enjoy.
With the impact of government cuts, I’m fortunate to still have a library within a relatively close proximity. Not all Southampton libraries will survive unless volunteers can be found to help run them (read more here) with others across the UK under threat as well (more information here). I don’t envy those trying to make decisions about how to spend the limited resources available. I do grieve though for the impact on individuals and society when the doors are shut on these hubs of learning, creativity and community.
For more cheerful further reading, check out this beautiful article on libraries from Brain Pickings.
Today’s soundtrack: Rend Collective Experiment // As Family We Go