Carole has a corker of a list this week, what makes your community interesting? I wasn’t sure how to approach this, then had a flash of inspiration in the shower. Libraries these are the very symbolism of ‘Community’ for me. Before I’d even moved to Australia, (Hubs had left the UK before me and found a house for us), I looked at what was going to be our local library and enrolled online, collecting my ticket and first books two days after I arrived.
Libraries a hub for people for a variety of reasons, and it is maddening to me that governments think they’re only about books and rental figures. Here are some arguments about why they’re so important to me.
- Free or heavily discounted activities for all ages. From baby sing-alongs and story sessions, to showing how use tablets and computers, to language classes, to keeping chickens and researching your family history, there is something to do for everyone. If a session isn’t being run, have a look at the notice board, there will probably be something advertising a group or meeting you may be interested in. Sometimes, getting out the house with Peanut and going to a reading session was all that I achieved that day, but it meant a walk there and back, a reason to shower and some adult conversation, with the possibility of a coffee afterwards!
- A place to study. Even before I got to high-school, there were reference books that were permanently onsite that I used to refer to complete homework at the Seaside Library in my hometown, see above picture. I can still smell the room now, parquet floors and wooden floor to picture rail shelving, with moveable shelves, tables and desks in the middle of the room, the librarians had a central desk towards the front of the room, where your books were stamped in and out. I could probably still direct you to my favourite books in my mind.
- Access to more books than I could ever afford. Books are not cheap. When you devour them as quickly as I do and with a birthday not long after Christmas, my main book buying binge was usually in the sales in January with book tokens (remember them) and gift cards to WH Smith. I can remember carrying a stack of a mixture of Arthur Ransome and Sweet Valley High (oh my) to the counter, for the lady on the till to say “I think you like reading!” My mum fell about laughing. Through the library, I was able to borrow books, read them, try them on, if I loved them, I could renew them, then put them on a ‘to-buy’ list. It also widened my sphere of reading, (way over and above Sweet Valley High), I’m still an eclectic reader now.
- A thirst for knowledge. If I want to learn about something, I read about it. Despite it being a digital age, (and loving my kindle), I love the tactile feel of paper. Most of my books have pen or pencil marks and notes in the margins. I love following the breadcrumbs of a subject, when a book point to another title or topic for me to lose myself in.
- Knowledge of how to research properly. Long before Google, there were microfiche readers and images of newspapers on reels. Standing up in front of a bank of cards, rifling through, taking the number of the tape or sleeve you needed to the librarian, waiting while they dug it out. Hoping a machine would be free. Another smell that is still there as I type this: the hot, dusty, celluloid, chemical tang. Going back and forwards over your tracks, making notes of where you were so your references were complete and correct at the end of your assignment. Kids these days…
- A place of refuge. In Eastbourne we also the ‘Central Library’, a concrete and glass monstrosity, but right by the train station. So if it was piddling it down with rain, you could make a made dash across the road and wait for the rain to stop. It also was a place I could spend hours in when my mind was struggling. Finding solace in Dewey, the smells of the books and stacks, people watching, writing endlessly, throwing the notes away and starting again.
- Librarians. A font of knowledge, support when you’re struggling to make a decision if you’ve accidently chosen too many books. I heartily miss the clunk-clunk of the stamp and my own little cardboard wallet with the tickets from the books I’d taken out in it. While Peanut loves scanning his books to take them out, it ain’t the same. Plus, we can take out 30 items at a time, so no quandary over what book to leave behind, wondering if I’d left the wrong one there.
- Meeting place. I cannot stress this point enough. Libraries are not just about books, they provide a safe, clean and welcoming place to meet. For mother’s groups, for play-dates, for friends, study-groups, you name it, you can meet there. You can also hire rooms out for meetings proper if your group needs somewhere, or for a change of scenery if you need an off-site work meeting.
- Resources for use/hire. I saw a picture of a bake pan library yesterday! See, I told you it is more than books. Catalogues now include DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, magazines, reference and text books, knitting patterns, board games. Our library is a networked group across different municipalities, there are nine sites in total. You can browse across the entire catalogue, ask for what you want to be sent to your local site. This arrangement is fantastic as the Councils can pool resources, to provide a truly excellent service.
- They help give back to the community. This leads off all the previous points, when you’re new in town, head to your local library. They will be able to help you get settled with lists of activities, doctor and dentist surgeries, more local historic information than you can shake a stick at.
I don’t think I will ever get off my soap-box about libraries. They are a necessity. They are precious and should be cherished, with funding secure. They’re a lifeline for many people, including me. I take Peanut to one of our local three every month, we check out a bag full (or two) of books, each time. He loves it as much as I do.