Coventry City Centre - Broadgate (as it looked in my childhood)
If you take a look at the above picture you’ll see a squat, black-roofed building sat between the two spires. That building was my childhood library, the place where I discovered Poe and James and where, just a year or two later, I discovered King, Barker, and Campbell. That building no longer exists; it was torn down and a shopping centre erected in its place. For many years, though, it was my weekend haven. As a pre-adolescent child my aunt would travel into town with me, walk me through the aisles and help me select several titles to take home and read during the week. As I grew a little older I was allowed to take those trips into town on my own. Let loose in a library at the age of eleven to start exploring the world of books for myself, I would frequently be late home and always up to the limit on the amount of books I could withdraw on each visit.
A love for libraries has remained with me throughout my entire life. As loves go, this one has been more true and constant than any other love in my life. Whenever I have moved home, one of my first tasks has always been to find the local library and get signed up. Libraries are the places where I discovered a passion for horror fiction; they helped me through exams, both at school and at university; and, as an awkward teenager, they provided me with a sense of belonging.
That sense of belonging has carried through into my adult life. If you look at the picture below you’ll see Ramsbottom Library, my current local library. It’s not the biggest library I’ve used, nor is it the most well-stocked (but hey, that’s what the Inter-Library Lending Service is there for), but it is far and away the most important community building in this small market town. It’s not just a library; it provides local information services, hosts reading groups (one of which is specifically designed to cater to blind and partially-sighted book lovers), has weekly reading and singing sessions for children and parents, it’s an Adult Learning Centre, it has an Art Gallery, it has an I.T. room. It probably has much more than that going on as well; this is just the stuff I know about.
Ramsbottom Library is one of the lucky ones. It’s not scheduled for closure, though I do know that cuts across the country mean its opening hours may change and one or two staff may find themselves working far less hours or not at all. Perhaps the reading groups will have to close, maybe the child and parent reading sessions will get the chop. Who knows?
What I do know is that I visited my local library this morning in order to write and upload this blog post. I used their (always) busy I.T. room to tweet about and share the link to this blog post on Facebook. I then went downstairs and handed in some non-fiction books I’ve finished reading. While at the desk I chatted with the staff about World Book Night (I’m one of the participants), making arrangements to donate some of the books to one of their reading groups. After that I’ll probably have nipped back into the main fiction area to stock up on titles, making the most of my book withdrawal limit.
What I also know is that across the country today thousands of people are taking part in protests against library closures: protests, events and readings to highlight ludicrous government cuts which strike at the heart of almost every county and its community spaces. These cuts can be fought as one story in my local paper proves. Some fights will be won, others lost; what’s most important is that people bother to fight them at all. Sitting back and allowing these cuts to happen, saying there was nothing you could do, is as bad as being in favour of them. Get up, get out the door, get to your local library, get a library card and use that card as often as you can. Prove to the government just how vital these spaces are to our communities.
Follow the links for more information and a far more eloquent explanation of the current situation from Philip Pullman and Paul Graham Raven.