As a devoted library patron – and currently a member of libraries in two countries, Singapore and the United States (I used to also be a loyal member of the Jubilee Library in Brighton and Hove, a ten-minute walk from the international student apartments on Kings Road, when I was a graduate student at the University of Sussex, but sadly my membership has long expired!), I knew I had to borrow this e-book.
The Library Book, published for National Libraries Day in the UK, is a collection of short essays by British writers, from Alan Bennett to Val McDermid to Caitlin Moran to Zadie Smith.
There’s a nice variety here, with some fiction, like China Melville’s Un Lun Dun and Karen Mosse’s The Lending Library. Some historical details about the Library of Babylon from Tom Holland. Bella Bathurst’s The Secret Life of Libraries tells of the most pilfered books, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s thoughts on bodybuilding (Liverpool), the UK citizenship test (Swansea).
I most enjoyed the personal anecdotes about growing up with libraries. Often the idea to take away is that libraries are about communities, not just about books.
Hardeep Singh Kohli recalls meeting his first punk in the Langside Library in Glasgow, and through that encounter, learning to claim his own Scottishness.
Ann Cleeves still remembers the name of her librarian, Mrs Macgregor, although she has long forgotten those of her teachers.
And I can relate to that, in a sense. Here we live in the Bay Area, far from our families, and while we had friends in the area, none of them had children at the time. So when Wee Reader was a baby, as a stay-at-home-mum, I was desperate for some company who could relate to what I was going through. So it was off to the library, to join their weekly “lap sit” sessions, where there were songs and finger plays and a ‘playtime’ at the end. It was amazing to see so many babies of different cultures and meet other mums. And today, Wee Reader still has regular playdates with some of these other toddlers we first met at the library, two years ago!
Of course that’s beside the very very many books we’ve borrowed – and will be borrowing!
One of my favourite quotes is from Caitlin Moran:
“A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead. A human with a brain and a heart and a desire to be uplifted, rather than a customer with a credit card and an inchoate ‘need’ for ‘stuff’.”
And this one from Anita Anand:
“I love taking my son to our local. We choose our piles with great care and excitement. He’s one and a half, and I am pleased to report that so far we have learned that Spot loves his mum and Spot loves his dad, and Caterpillars can be very hungry indeed. As can children, as long as libraries exist to feed them.”
I wish I could say that we’re off to the library now, but Wee-er Reader is down for his morning nap, without a fuss for once! But I am ready to settle down with my library book, just that it’s an e-book!