I’m reading a book that is holding me by the shoulders and staring hard in my face. It Will Not Let Me Go. And I love it when a book does this to me.
The book is The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. Not a children’s book, so perhaps a little out of place on this blog, but it has led to a bit of a revelation and I’m feeling sharey.
I was in the library for my daughter. We had a big pile of books for her and I happened across The Burgess Boys in the Quick Picks section while we were hanging out in the queue. (Those pesky librarians and their chocolates-at-the-checkout hard sell!) Seeing it there, beckoning to me, reminded me of how much I’d loved Strout’s book Olive Kitteridge and the tv adaptation. So I grabbed it. And I’m so glad I did because it has started off an adventure. Because I am suddenly remembering how awesome libraries are for adults. I’ve always been a fan for small folk but I am fickle and tend to forget how much they have to offer for me.
I am immensely lucky; reading books is basically my (sadly, as yet unpaid – but you know… one day) job and to do that job I get sent some books for free. And I’m lucky that I have a good local independent book shop and can afford to buy a book that I am desperate to read. But I am also painfully aware that it hasn’t always been this way and certainly isn’t this way for many people. I have a collection of yellowing, creased and oh so loved paperbacks that I bought, one a month, for 50p – a pound at a push, if I wanted it so much I was willing to forgo my payday chocolate bar – from my local charity shop. Anything above that was from the library. The library has always been there for me. When I was a child trying to understand who I was and where I could fit; when I was living in an unfamiliar bedsit and the few paperbacks on the shelf helped me remember and hold on to the me I had discovered; when I lived above a band who liked to rehearse ‘full-amp’ and I needed a place to study; and when I was feeling tired and isolated as a new mum looking for a community. The library gave me identity, refuge, community, friendship. Books were, at those points in my life, both a luxury and a necessity. But now that I am happy, secure and able to buy books as I want to read them, I forget to use the library and I miss out on chance encounters like The Burgess Boys. Just because I don’t need the library doesn’t mean I don’t need the library, if you get my meaning.
But (cue dramatic music) just as I’m falling back in love with my library, along come The Cuts, knocking at the door. My lovely local library has gone into consultation for a round of cuts to staffing and opening hours. I’ve campaigned against library cuts and closures and watched them creeping ever nearer and now here they are, encroaching upon my library. And so.. My new adventure. I’m going to be using my library hard! I will support them with footfall; drop in more; borrow more. Maybe start a Quick Pick challenge to mix up my reading a bit. I’m joining in the consultation and having my say; speaking to the librarians; donating books; seeing how I can help. I want to stop being complacent; to get in there and make the most of my library; to encourage others to do the same so that we don’t all become complacent and forget what we have until it’s taken away from us. Because if we don’t use it, we’ll lose it.
The library adventure starts here.