I have a question for you. Which childhood habit from summers long-gone have you kept? Which has turned into a life-long act, something you pick up again every year in July when schools close their doors and traffic is once again calm around 8.45am?
Is it spending hours roaming around with your mates getting up to mischief? (Not unless a night in The Kenilworth Cocktail bar applies. And no, it wasn’t me who tried to drink the cocktails in alphabetical order. Someone cannot leave work behind in the office). Maybe eating 10 ice-pops in a row for a dare? Or ripping the heads off your mum’s roses so you can make perfume, which after one day has the whiff of rotting compost with high tone of cat?
For me, it is rediscovering my love of the library. Don’t get me wrong, I do go regularly in term time, but it is very often a rushed ten minutes to look at the ‘new titles’ shelf and hone in on a particular author’s output. But when the summer holidays arrive, a visit to the library becomes the habit of my childhood.
When I was a kid, we spent hours in our local library. I can remember the buzzing excitement of walking to the library and crossing the threshold. Mum would say ‘Right, we’ll meet up here later’, and then we would be released like stones from a slingshot. A fast walk/run to the Children’s Section then a long, leisurely mooch, pottering from one shelf to another, picking up, putting down, maybe stopping to read a chapter or two. Then furtively exploring other sections – books a 10 year old possibly should not have been looking at. These days I skulk around Cookery and Personal Growth, hoping I don’t bump into anyone I know as I read up on how to make the perfect muffin whilst performing a downward dog.
Libraries are brilliant. There is a wonderfully nostalgic comfort in knowing they are there. More importantly, however, they are vital to our communities. They provide something that cannot be recreated elsewhere. This is my Top Ten of Stuff We Need to Remember about Libraries:
- They are free. It costs nothing to join the library and borrow books, e-books, dvds. It is somewhere you do not need a handbag, credit card or a phone. You are not judged on your wallet or your jeggings. There is true equality. It is the French Revolution of reading.
- They can help. Free internet, free online resources. Help with homework. Friendly people who smile and point you in the right direction. Events. A meeting place. In fact, the hub of a community. If you are smiling now, do not read no.8. It will make you gloomy. Go on to no.9 and cheer yourself up.
- They are quiet. They hum with calm thoughts. No one will try to talk to you. You will not be bothered. *Breaking News*: there will be no breaking news.
- They broaden the mind. I am sure I was not meant to flick through The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as a child, or check out James Herbert’s The Rats. But without the library I also would never have stumbled on a shelf containing biographies of the saints, leading me to consider that as a career option. And an early reading of an 87th Precinct book by Ed McBain eventually lead me to the noir-ish James Ellroy and gave me a lifelong love of American detective novels.
- They have the feel-good factor. I am a news hound but I rarely have time to read a newspaper in term time. In the summer, however, I can go into my local library and read all the newspapers and magazines and I don’t even had to pay for them! Good reading and good housekeeping.
- Summer holidays are long and libraries can help. Keep the children amused and sneakily educate them at the same time by getting them to join the Summer Reading Challenge. It’s a fantastic annual venture which encourages reading. And there are badges and stickers and competitions.
- There are some brilliant children’s books involving libraries. Adam Lancaster, school librarian of the year in 2012, shares a selection here. My favourite is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials but I am desperate to read Wonder by R J Palacio. I will be putting in an order at my library.
- They are under threat. According to the Library Campaign, there have been over one thousand library closures since 2009. What does that say about our society? I love this quote from Caitlin Moran: “A library is such a potent symbol of a town’s values: each one closed down might as well be six thousand stickers plastered over every available surface, reading “WE CHOSE TO BECOME MORE STUPID AND DULL.”
- Coventry City Council has not closed any libraries. In fact, Coventry Central Library has just had a face-lift. BRAVO!
- If we don’t use ’em, we lose ’em. Go on, venture forth this summer, brave that squat, grey building on the corner of the high street. It holds the key to paradise.
Julia Etheridge, Primary English Consultant. Perfume-maker extraordinaire. Ice-pop champion.