Libraries Week

Being scolded for gasping with joy at the sight of so many books rather put me off libraries as a child, which may well have been the old bat’s intention. It seemed she believed the edifying power of books teetered on the brink of weaponisation, and it was her job to ensure they didn’t get into the wrong hands.
‘Where did you get this,’ she hissed as I placed The Famous Five on the counter, ‘it needs to be re-glued?’
I looked at my mother as the woman literally pulled the book apart and threw it under the counter. We left.* Bookless.

But I didn’t stay away, I went back the next weekend with a friend and her mother (white, though working class so still not quite the ticket), who wasn’t going to let some old bag ‘get away with that!’ and left with a pile of books, and a defiant sense of up yours missus. From then on I braced myself and returned to Gillingham Library pretty much weekly until I’d read everything** it contained. Though I never felt quite comfortable in a library until I was in my forties, and I still have to gather myself to enter one, so much prefer to buy my books.

Book Shack
Like D and I, I’m sure you, too, would have risked your tyres, and wallets, by stomping on the breaks when this came into view on a remote road in Wales.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love libraries: I’ve heard the many stories of lives saved and lifelong passions formed thanks to them, and I very much believe they are still vital for the mental health of any nation. They’re probably the only truly accessible public spaces left, and, unlike parks or shopping malls, anyone can sit in them for hours without being moved on. They provide somewhere warm if you haven’t the means for heating; somewhere safe if you are threatened; and a multiverse for imaginations to inhabit. I used to do my homework in the school library because there was no space at home, and expect many kids do the same. So as tomorrow is the start of Libraries Week I thought I’d celebrate with a few pictures of covetable libraries from around the world.

Kansas City Public Library
Kansas City Public Library (image: Cassie Shey, Flickr)
Bibliomotocarro, Italy
How to get 700 books on a motorbike: the Bibliomotocarro of Antonio La Cava, Italy (image from
Uris Library At Cornell University
The Uris Library at Cornell University (image from
University Valle del Momboy, Biblio Mule
The Biblio Mule, sent into remote areas by the University del Momboy (image from
The Tripitaka Koreana Library, Haeinsa Temple, South Korea
The Tripitaka Koreana Library (image from
Street Library
Image from Pinterest.
Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris, France
Bibliothéque Mazarine, Paris (image from

And finally***…

Princeton Library Cake
Princeton Library’s 100th anniversary cake (image from Pinterest).

How badly I want a slice!


Header image downloaded from the Libraries Week website.

*I don’t recount this to make you feel sorry for me, I’m ecstatically aware that such childhood experiences, married with the warmth and safety of my family (and many other things besides), helped nurture a certain resilience in my character that has come in very handy. I’m also wont to think my love of reading was fuelled by the notion it was somehow forbidden.

**that I was interested in, I never checked out a book on military history or, sadly I think now, pike fishing…

***I do have more, but think this will do!

10 thoughts on “Libraries Week

  1. What a ghastly introduction to libraries! That horrid harridan had no place there. I’ve known some teachers like that.too.

    Come to think of it, I was a bit scared of our local librarian when I was a very shy little girl.She wore the thickest lenses I’d ever seen, making her eyes huge and scary. And she chain-smoked and had stained fingers on both hands. But I was fascinated by her pen-with-date-stamp. And over the moon when she allowed me to stamp my own book!


    1. She allowed you to stamp your own book? I’m reeling with envy!

      My experience of teachers was much the same: 90% monsters, but the lovely 10% (Mrs Woods I hope you are enjoying a blissful retirement) managed to kindle in me a latent love of learning that blossomed when my son was born, and keeps going to this day.


      1. I still love those old date stamps. That’s what I NEED, old stamped library books! I don’t know why I need them but I do. I also felt uncomfortable in the library, though I think it was due to the concentration it took to be quiet!


      2. I think that was my problem too, being silent when there are so many things to ooh about is impossible!

        I loved stamping the books when I worked in a second hand bookshop a few years ago, and I bought a old stamp a little while ago. It says EXPORT, but it could have said anything, and I now use it as my mark, stamping my books so that when I lend them to people they know whose they are. I love it, and like you, I really don’t know why!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A fantastic post. Libraries weren’t a part of my life when I was young because I didn’t actually read for pleasure until I was 19. When my daughters were children I would take them to our local, well-stocked library and turn them loose. It formed who they are. I wish someone had done the same for me but better late than not at all. I love books. I’m proud to report that both daughters have rejected e-readers and prefer books. My wife goes mad because we have a modest house that cannot afford to allocate anymore space for books. The cases and shelves are full to capacity. What a luxurious problem to have!

    It reminds me of some advice director John Waters gave to a graduating college class during a commencement speech. Pardon the vulgarity, but he said, “If you meet someone in a bar and go home with them and they don’t have any books…don’t fuck them!”


    1. Thank you, Mark! Hope you’re feeling better today. Your girls are very lucky to have you as their dad, my mother only took me to the library reluctantly so I was lucky that Tracey’s mother filled that role after hearing me tell Tracey about the harridan in the library.

      I’ve seen that quote a few times but not known from who it originated, so thanks again.


  3. Teehee – your first paragraph reminded me of what ECO wrote about the “negative library”, the anti-library, defined in 19 topics. Point 8 says that “the librarian has to see the reader as enemy, as “do-nothing” (else he would be at work), and as potential thief.”
    I only know this German version from 1987. The Italian original is titled De Bibliotheca, there should be an English version.
    FRater HUmertus de Bologna is sorely missed, he was rearly one of the last of his kind. I mean, to tone is set, when he recites from the script at the beginning, Borges’ Library of Babel of course.

    I’m sorry Eryl, I have not been around here for quiet a time. I’ll go back and read where I stopped (must have been shortly after your wedding, have not read about your London adventures yet) – so don’t wonder if someone worms through the older entries, it’s just me

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I haven’t read enough Eco, so I will see if there is an English translation of De Bibliotheca (there must be!) and put it on my list of books to look out for in second-hand bookshops.

    It’s rather comforting to think of you worming through my old posts…


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