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.
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.
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!