In honour of National Libraries Day I thought I'd say a few words. Although happily I think I'm preaching to the converted.
I've been borrowing books from libraries for as long as I can remember. The library of my childhood was in a low brick building, not hugely attractive from the outside, but inside, oh, inside it was magical. It had a slippery parquet floor and that delicious wood and paper library smell. There were padded vinyl seats to sit and while you browsed. I knew which shelves were best,where to find exciting adventures, stories of friendship and tales of survival and derring-do.
Everyone had a handful of little green cardboard pockets for the tickets to go in. When you borrowed a book you took it to the counter and the librarian put the library ticket in the pocket and filed it alphabetically under your name in a long metal drawer. Then she stamped the front of the book so that you knew when to return it.
Back then if you wanted to find out about something, the library was where you went. I remember big hardback books about pirates and Elizabethan England and African animals borrowed for homework projects. And the reference section and copies of all of the local newspapers. Bristol Central Library, in many of the pictures above, still has ancient wooden drawers filled with records written in fountain pen and countless reels of newspapers on microfiche.
I used to go there to study when I was doing a law degree. I always managed much more work in the breathless quiet of the reading room, tucked into one of the old wooden cubbyholes than ever I did at home.
Things have changed at the library of course. Now you can log out your own books, spend the day on a computer or renew your books online from home. I often have a look through the library catalogue online to see what I might like to borrow. There's a charge of £1 for an adult to reserve a book, but children can reserve as many as they want for free. Everyone can borrow twenty items at a time. And unlike buying secondhand bookshops, a small sum goes to the writer every time a book is borrowed.
Over the years I've visited countless libraries. All of the ones in the vicinity of wherever I've been living. Here in the Libraries West area you can borrow a book from any library in the region and return it to any other library. I still remember how thrilled I was when I discovered that. Borrow a book from the big library in Bath and take it back to my local library. Brilliant.
For many people libraries have been life changing. Education is here, in every subject under the sun. If you want to make changes, this is the place to come. Inspiration is here. If you didn't know before you came in, you'll have some ideas by the time you leave. And motivation is here. All of these books, written by knowledgeable and enthusiastic people. All of this information being shared. The whole world is there. Libraries are filled with possibilities.
That's before I even get to the therapeutic role of fiction in our lives. After a long day, or when things aren't going the way you wish they were, a book is an escape. Go somewhere completely different. Be someone else. Just for a while, have a rest from your cares. The fictional world will stay with you for a while as you battle the real one. It will help. Converted already, I know you are, but I didn't think it would hurt to say it out loud.
The children are big fans of the library as well now. Hopefully it's something that will stay with them. And hopefully the government will recognise the importance of libraries in everyone's lives. I won't bang on for too long about cuts and closures and shorter opening times and axing librarians to use volunteers instead. I just hope the powers that be understand the role of books in our lives and our futures.
I read something once that said, "People won't save what they don't know". That's why I'm always happy to see children visiting the library. If future generations have the same happy, exciting childhood library memories as me they won't let libraries fade away.