Sunday, 1 March 2015

The world of libraries

If you want to learn about a place and its people, spend a day in the local library. Libraries are a microcosm, a watering hole for people from all walks of life. Believe me. They will all, at some point, cross the threshold.







I have spent many a good year working in libraries, both large and small. Imposing central city libraries, tiny one-roomed local libraries. I have met the world coming through the doors.

People come for a myriad of reasons. To borrow books and music and films. To connect on-line. To sit and work in a quiet place. To read the newspaper. To drink coffee and chat to friends. To print out forms, use the photocopier. Book groups, story-corner, summer-reading challenge, yoga, salsa, comedy clubs, theatre. It's all happening in libraries.

They come in to shelter from the rain, to kill time before the bus, to fall asleep on the sofas, bags for life full of their lives resting for a moment. They snore loudly and need to be gently prodded. They park up their mobility scooter and come in for a chat. They want to learn French, in their nineties. They ring up to talk about this, how perhaps you could go around to their house and teach them.

Book groups, story-corner, summer-reading challenge, yoga, salsa, comedy clubs, theatre. It's all happening in libraries

They come in with their dog, who you tickle and stroke while reading out the backs of crime audio books to see which one takes the owner's fancy. Small people gather round, getting closer and closer as you take them deeper in to the magical world of the story. Immigration forms, jobseeker's allowance forms. Wherever you can you help.

Sometimes people drunk on life and other things, visit like clockwork. They don't have a home, but they have a library card. On occasion they fall asleep in the foyer, on the floor. People step over them. 'It's alright, we know,' we tell their anxious faces. The police have been called. After an hour or so, the only way to entice our sleepy visitor off the floor, is to agree to go out for dinner with them. 'Yes, yes.' You say. 'That'll be lovely.' As you wave them off down the street.


They don't have a home, but they have a library card

The smelly shadow of unwashed people is followed with a quick pfft pfft of air freshener, otherwise there will be complaints. Computer users are quietly told to not shout out profanities during their on-line gaming. Fights are broken up. Police run like keystone cops, in through the door, up the stairs, in to the small room containing the railway collection. A deal is going down, or has already been done. The toilets need to be checked on a regular basis. They have other uses for some people.

Police run like keystone cops, in through the door, up the stairs, in to the small room containing the railway collection

CCTV is viewed. A man lifts a picture of the wall, and tucks the corner under his coat. Empty bottles of wine are neatly shelved. A small boy giggles uncontrollably over a story he has chosen to take home. The sound is free and wonderful. Years later, the memory of it still makes me smile.

Libraries are cherished for so many reasons, expected and unexpected. But they have had to change to keep up with the fast-pace of the world. The quiet has often been replaced by a buzz.

The girl who came in every Saturday with a fresh list of fairy stories to reserve, will have to go elsewhere

Self-service machines have replaced real people, because things need to be done now (ironically so much time is spent trying to get these machines to work and show people how to use them...if it ain't broke...). Small libraries are deemed surplus to requirement. The girl who came in every Saturday with a fresh list of fairy stories to reserve will have to go elsewhere.

Whatever happens, I firmly believe that people will always need a library, in whichever shape or form it takes. People will always need that central hub of connection, to be a part of the unfolding story.




Don't Forget the good reads from last week's W&P:

Monday's How to submit your picture book, with expert advice from Natascha
Tuesday's worthy collection of blog breaks from Nick
Wednesday's mind-boggling collection of heterographs and homophones from Catriona
Thursday's Double serving of Network news from the North East with Maureen Lynas, and Q&A with Eric Haung about the forthcoming masterclass, picture books for the digital age - book here
Friday's thought provoking piece from John Shelley, on how to be aware of cultural issues when it comes to illustration
Saturday's celebration of SCBWI member Tamsyn Murray's latest book










Nancy Saunders is the new Editor of W&P. You can find some of her short stories here, and on Twitter @nancyesaunders




2 comments:

  1. Thank you for putting into words the multifaceted activities of a library, which place it at the heart of community, and about so much more than books… though books are an added bonus.

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    Replies
    1. You're very welcome, June. I have learned such an enormous amount about life, and people, through my time in libraries. And all those books...

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