Today is National Libraries Day in the United Kingdom, and hundreds of activities and events are taking place in public libraries of all shapes and sizes — from the multi-million pound Library of Birmingham, to the tiniest local libraries run by volunteers — in order to celebrate our wonderful librarians, and the libraries they run. To celebrate National Libraries Day, we asked a few of our staff what they love about public libraries.
“I have loved libraries since I was a little girl and my dad would take me to the library every couple of weeks; I would take my maximum quota of books out and devour them before the next visit. I always had a teetering pile of library books next to my bed and would stay up late at night reading. My parents couldn’t come close to affording to buy the amount of books I could get through. Even now walking into my local library gives me a frisson of excitement and anticipation at the prospect of being able to take out any books I like – for free!”
— Sarah Brett, Digital Development Editor for Online Products
“What I want to read can vary hugely, depending on how I feel, and as such the library is completely invaluable. From losing myself in Anna Karenina, to a thriller that I’ll read quicker than I can turn the pages, or from browsing through a hefty book of Lucian Freud’s paintings, to using the online Oxford English Dictionary to look up obscure words, the library has it all.
“My library also allows me to indulge my many phases of reading that I can’t currently afford, such as reading 4 books a week, or reading the entire works of Kingsley Amis. The library is also the best guide for where to go next, not solely because, reading Amis, I discover his life-long friend, poet, and librarian Philip Larkin, but also for the unexpected juxtapositions. While looking for Amis, I discovered Margaret Atwood next door. (I’m now in my Margaret Atwood phase. In fact, because I have my wonderful library card, I could just work my way through the alphabet until I eventually get to Émile Zola.)
“Recently, my Kindle broke right in the middle of an un-put-down-able Jo Nesbo thriller (I was fully in the midst of a Nordic Crime phase) and I could have cried, I was so upset. Thankfully I pulled it together and headed down the road to the library, where the book was quietly waiting for me.”
— Alice Graves, Marketing Executive
“Why do we, at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, love UK public libraries? With the help of libraries across the country we’re able to make the ODNB—the national record of people in British history—a truly national resource, available free to anyone, anytime, anywhere. By tapping in your nine (or so) digit library card number you get to meet the 60,000 people whose biographies appear in the ODNB. Just who you choose is up to you: historical figures who share your birthday, who wrote the novel you’re reading, who just appeared on that programme you were watching, who share your love of cats (or dogs), and so on.
“We especially love libraries, and librarians, who see the possibilities for using the Dictionary for local and family history: promoting the ODNB to discover the people who lived in your county, city, town, village or street; who went to your school; or who were baptized or buried in a local church (and much else besides).
“And we really, really love (almost to distraction) those librarians—from Aberdeenshire to East Yorkshire—who ask us for bespoke pages to promote national figures important to them and their users. If you’re a librarian, and you’re looking for love, let us know.”
— Philip Carter, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Research Editor
“As a child, I never viewed going to my local public library as a treat or as some kind of special trip. But before you misunderstand me, that’s because I used to go all the time. I was lucky in that I lived about five minutes’ walk from it (certainly by the time I was old enough to make the trip on my own) and it was the best in the region, the envy of all of the others. I would frequently borrow up to the maximum number of books that you were allowed, so often when I did go, I would just be there to take in the hushed atmosphere, and the smell of the books since I couldn’t borrow any more. The mystique was also intriguing. Who might have read this book before me? Why was I the first person in over a year who wanted to read this book? And then there was the excitement of reserving a book and waiting impatiently for the postcard to come through to tell me it was there for me.
“Things have changed now, but one thing remains constant. The public library gave me the chance to discover books that I might never had tried otherwise, not wishing to spend money on it just in case it wasn’t my cup of tea. If the cover looked appealing, why not give it a go? I could just bring it back the next day if I didn’t like it. And then there were the times when I would wonder about trying one of books that I always used to see because it was right next to an author that I always made a beeline for. I never did borrow that book by Anne Christie. Perhaps I should try my local library…”
— Fiona McPherson, Senior Editor, The Oxford English Dictionary
“I have happy memories of many hours spent at the public library in my hometown. I grew up in the Midwest, and the library was the first place I learned that the world was bigger and more exciting than I had initially suspected. I loved reading about foreign countries and scrutinizing books of house designs and floor plans. In high school I felt important and serious writing my term papers in the library’s glass-encased study carrels, and I checked out CDs by artists no one was playing on local radio stations. At university, I grew to love the rare books held in library collections. I remember poring over eighteenth-century county records in the British Library, hoping to find undiscovered information and generally just being thrilled that someone was letting me handle something so old. The library at the Courtauld is a beautiful vaulted underground space, and my friends and I would study together around a big table in a central alcove. I love the underground stacks of the Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum; the scale alone reminds me that there is always much, much more to learn about art. And I love libraries because of librarians. They make all of this possible, and they are knowledgeable, patient guides through the mountains of information available in print and online.”
— Alodie Larson, Grove Art editor
“I grew up going to the library every week. We moved around a lot, but no matter where we lived – a small town in Connecticut or central London – the library was always there. It wasn’t a thing I did. It was a thing I was. Every week I checked out the maximum number of books they allowed and read them one by one. Each one was like trying on someone else’s life. If you liked that life, you could renew it for another week. If you didn’t? No big loss. Just take it back and try another. The possibilities were endless – an infinite number of doors into worlds I hadn’t yet seen. Years later, as a professional researcher, I still feel the same way. While my research has become a lot more focused with search engines and keywords, there’s still no substitute for browsing the stacks of the library, for finding something you weren’t looking for that was nevertheless exactly what you needed. We talk a lot these days about the service libraries provide for their communities, and this is very important. But maybe even more important is the service they do for our souls – the magic potential of an open door.”
— Anna-Lise Santella, Editor, Oxford Music Online/Grove Music Online
“What I love most about public libraries is that they are community resources and gathering places. The library, on any given day, becomes a workspace, a play space, a learning space, and a space for quiet reflection for its patrons. Although when most people think of libraries they think of the books within, libraries are more than that. They adapt to patrons’ needs and provide computers, printers, copiers, fax machines, journals, news sources, online resources, audio, ebooks, videos, etc., to those who would not otherwise have access to them. They provide community events, like readings, lectures, film screenings, performances. They welcome everyone to gather, learn, and share. I’m proud to be a library-card holder!”
— Molly Tranberg, Grove Art Online editorial
“The smell of old books.”
— Kandice Rawlings, Associate Editor, Oxford Art Online
“I remember as a kid my parents taking my sister and me to our local library on a fairly regular basis, which to my childish eyes seemed a place of resplendent grandeur (it is a very nice building, in a south Florida kind of way). We would walk to whichever section we’d taken a shine to at that particular time, pull some books off the shelf, and sit at the huge tables reading and making notes. The quiet and the copious sunshine felt like heaven to me (hello, Jorge Luis Borges), and we could even rent VHS tapes there! When we weren’t geeking out about Egyptian dynasties or fangirling over Liszt and Chopin, we were renting yet again that video where Glenn Gould performs Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. I still remember the thrill of getting my own library card. No library, no matter the amount of marble or oak, will ever compare to that one for me.”
— Meg Wilhoite, Grove Music Online editorial
“Imagine a place where you can visit anywhere you want, travel to any time in the past or present, meet incredible people, or learn something new. It sounds incredible, but this is why I love libraries. They are a building full of books where you can let you mind wander, escape, discover, or learn! Whether you want to read in print, as an e-book, or online, libraries disseminate knowledge and let imaginations run free, and what could be better than that?”
— Hannah Charters, Senior Marketing Executive
“I come from solid library-loving stock: my grandmother, Florence (Flo), was the adult-services librarian at the Scarsdale Library for more than thirty years, only recently retiring. My parents are two-books-at-a-time, book-club-on-Saturday types. And of course, I’m a lifelong reader — true of most editors, I think! The Phantom Tollbooth was an early favorite. Milo, the protagonist, barters for words and letters in the marketplace of Dictionopolis, and I think I was probably doing the same thing at age seven or eight, turning over the words I struggled with again and again. It is easy, and pleasant, to think of libraries in that vein — full of quiet children, and adults, privately immersed in the author’s world, learning and growing. But libraries are also communal spaces. I remember getting hooked on author readings at my middle school library, when Brian Jacques recited a chapter of Redwall from memory as we followed along, amazed that he hadn’t missed a word. Libraries provide such a range of community services, and meeting a favorite author, if you are lucky, is just one small part of the spectrum. For instance, my mom recently helped found a program called LatinoU College Access, to help boost college enrollment and completion among Latino students in Westchester, New York. They needed space for student tutoring, so who did they partner with? Two local libraries, Ossining Public Library and Mt. Kisco Public Library.”
— Max Sinsheimer, Editor, Reference
As part of the National Libraries Day celebrations, we’re offering free access for the whole day to our entire range of online resources for public libraries. If you’re based in the United Kingdom, simply visit our National Libraries Day site, and click on the images for your free access. Happy National Libraries Day!
90% of all UK Public Libraries have access to the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Dictionaries Pro, Oxford Reference, and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and many have access to more of our online resources too. Visit A Library in Your Living Room, our dedicated site for UK Public Libraries, for more information.