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A lifetime in the library

From regular after school browsing trips throughout primary school to attending Leamington Library’s book club as their youngest member, libraries have always provided me with a home away from home. In honour of the upcoming National Libraries Day (Saturday, 7 February 2015), I took a trip down memory lane to play tribute to some of the ways libraries have enriched and supported me.

My earliest memories of libraries include hours spent in the bright and cosy library in my primary school, and an even vaguer recollection of marvelling at the ingenuity of a travelling library dedicated to delivering books to residents of rural areas on the Isle of Mull.

While the libraries of my hometown (now sadly declined in number) were mundanely static by comparison, they more than made up for this with their content. A large format version of Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s picturebook Each Peach Pear Plum was an early favourite, and a few years later I enlisted my mum to give her approval so the librarians could issue me books from outside the children’s section.

"Free Library, Technical and Art School, Royal Leamington Spa." Photo by David Stowell. CC by SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Free Library, Technical and Art School, Royal Leamington Spa.” Photo by David Stowell. CC by SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Partly in emulation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, I tackled my public library’s children’s summer reading challenges with gusto, determined not just to meet but to surpass the target of reading six books over the school holidays. The library offered a wide array of choices, introducing me to Japanese manga and providing reading material to satisfy a recurring graphic novel fixation, as well as ensuring I didn’t have to fork out for each installment in long-running series such as Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events.

As I progressed through school, libraries supported my research as well as entertainment needs. At 11, I was one of the few students in my class who looked forward to weekly ‘library lessons’. Among other research skills we were taught to understand and navigate the Dewey Decimal System, just one of the many methods of library classification I later found used in the libraries of Oxford University.

In library lessons it was the silent reading time at the end of each session, and the opportunity to withdraw a new book – especially if a new green box had arrived from the Warwickshire Schools Library Service – which I most eagerly awaited. Thanks to the efforts of my school librarian, for several years I was able to follow the Carnegie Medal, reading each book on the shortlist and voting in a local schools’ version of the award. It’s great to see this scheme still exists around the country, even offering schoolchildren the opportunity to meet shortlisted authors.

Clockwise: “Mansfield” (Photo by HiraV at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0), “OUP” (courtesy of Rachel Brook),”Pump Rooms” (Photo by Dennis Turner, CC BY-SA 2.0), “Courtyard of the Bodleian Library” (Photo by Zach A, CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons.

I love libraries for a constantly growing list of reasons, including a commonplace appreciation for a quiet place to study or write, and an enthusiasm for cheap access to an impressively large and diverse DVD collection (thank you Oxford Central Library). Yet it’s the kindness and seemingly infinite knowledge of librarians that continues to make the most significant impact. From simply always knowing which books are shelved where, to generously loaning me a rare copy of Jane Austen’s unfinished Sanditon, libraries and librarians have helped me immeasurably.

Perhaps it’s my great respect for librarians – and probably also my days as a student librarian at school – that’s turned me into a zealous protector of library regulations. Throughout university I was renowned for disapproving of extended chatting or – gasp – receiving phone calls in the library, and refused to bow to peer pressure and flout the ‘no eating’ rule in my college library.

It’s not just the ways we use libraries that develop, but also libraries themselves. Budget cuts are a sad reality which force libraries to adapt, but they continue to excel in providing entertainment and inspiration. Libraries allow readers to broaden both intellectual and experiential horizons, and can even create reading communities which link diverse members of society.

What do libraries mean to you? Share your own library memories below.

Image Credit: “Library books.” Photo by timetrax23. CC by SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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