When I was young, my local village, town and city (Middleton, Driffield and Hull respectively) all had one, wonderful thing in common. They all had a library, ranging from Middleton’s Mobile Library which stocked about twelve books but could order more to Hull’s all singing all dancing mega-library, home to a heady number of wonderful, wonderful books. Driffield’s library was located in its secondary school, and it’s here that I really cut my teeth on literature.
It’s probably deemed ‘sad’ or ‘uncool’ (I myself am clearly these things for even using the words) to admit that my prized possession when I was younger was a Library card. Libraries were escapism, adventure and romance all rolled into one, beautifully quiet place. The meaning of the books escaped me, and the adventure and romance of the words would come later, but as a boy of 11 it was the peace and quiet I loved (I haven’t changed, I now live in a tiny village in deepest darkest Wales, home to 100 other peacekeepers). A place to escape the teachers, the workload and the bullies. Oh the bullies. They never set foot in the library. To many books, they said.
The first real books I read were the ragged, torn pages of the Doctor Who paperbacks I found nestling in the corner of the Classics section (I still haven’t worked out why they were there). I skipped pages to get to good bits, half the words confused me and I never finished a single one, but I had fallen in love all the same. From the good Doctor I discovered Terry Pratchett’s Nome Trilogy, Stephen King’s tamer novels and eventually authors like Asimov, Waugh and Murakami. As I travelled through the stresses of education in the early nineties one thing remained constant. The library.
So why am I telling you this?
Well, currently 10% of the UK’s libraries are under threat of closure. Almost double that number are under threat of being run by volunteers, not trained library staff. Libraries are closing every week. In my local town now, Llangollen, there are 3 E-Cig shops but no real library. The library I loved so much at school has now gone. Fewer people than ever are borrowing books from libraries, and this means more and more are closing.
While I appreciate that Kindles etc are wonderful things, and the internet is a brilliant resource for finding things to read, they are not libraries. They do not shelter a young boy from the storm outside, offering so much while expecting nothing in return. They do not replicate the exhilaration of returning home with several books to read, knowing in your heart and mind that you will be a richer person when you have finished.
Statistics can be manipulated. While the statistics say more of us are reading than ever, and more of us are researching than ever, they do not detail what it is we are reading. What it is the young people nowadays are doing on the internet? I would wager they are not discussing Keats or Austen. Libraries are useful there as well, as they provide a working statistic on what we read. I hear every day that we are becoming more literate but I do not see the evidence. The library in Wrexham is full of people using the computers, but no one reading. The general answer nowadays to ‘what are you reading?’ is usually ‘I don’t read books mate’.
The only way to reverse this trend is to make libraries feel loved again (and possibly elect Jeremy ‘champion of the arts’ Corbyn but that’s another debate). Get down to your local library before it’s too late, get a library card and get reading. You will be adding your invaluable input to a matter that could well be at the heart of whether we truly fall back in love with books.
The question is, do you love libraries like I do? Or do you think they are a thing of the past? Let me know below!