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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Do you love libraries?

I certainly do, and I can't remember a time when libraries were not a big part of my life.

This Saturday, 5 February is Save our Libraries Day. and there are lots of things you can do to show your support, even if you only have a few minutes to spare. I will be doing my bit online, because I won't be able to visit my local library in person on Saturday. This is because I have to be at work.

Luckily for me, though, work involves spending the day in a building where there is a wonderful library (shameless plug - if you are visiting The National Archives in person, don't forget the check out the Library, it's probably bigger than you thought).

One of my earliest memories involves a library, and not just any library, it was the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. I must have been about four years old when my dad took me there, and I must have already been  used to going to our local Langside Library and borrowing books. I know this because my memory of the Mitchell is a) being really impressed at seeing so many books and b) yelling the place down with disappointment when I found out that I couldn't borrow any of them! This was the old marble hall part of the library, quite possibly the staircase, where there is a really good echo

We moved to Wootton Wawen, Warwickshire when I was 7, and lived in Wootton Hall - there is a picture of it in an earlier post. Mum and I wanted to find out about the history of this amazing building, so we went to Henley-in-Arden Library nearby and found a book on the history of the village, which told us that our flat used to be the Bishop's Rooms. I may write about that sometime.

The following year we moved to Gillingham in Kent, and I spent a lot of time in Gillingham Library, first of all in the Children's Library, a wonderful traditional high-ceilinged room with murals of scenes from 'Wind in the Willows' where a clock in one of the pictures was a real working clock. I graduated to the adult library, and also enjoyed the temporary exhibitions in the library, but I particularly loved the reference library upstairs. I may be the only person to have bunked off school to spend more time in the library!

As a student I was first introduced to the Library of Congress classification system used in the University of Warwick Library, but the university and its library were still pretty new back then, so when I had a serous research project to do, I used the fabulous Birmingham Central Library. This was where I first experience the thrill of doing original research for myself, and there is nothing quite like it (hands up who agrees with me on that!).

I took a long break from education, and did the motherhood thing too. And what did I do when I discovered that Firstborn was on the way? I went to Hendon Library and borrowed some baby books of course! When we moved a few miles to a bigger house I joined Harrow Libraries, borrowing books and  vinyl records - remember them? I attended evening classes in more than one branch library, and when I took up family history I used the Local Studies collection in the Civic Centre Reference Library.

Once the family history thing had really kicked in, I helped my local family history put on an exhibition in the library, and carried on with evening classes in libraries in Harrow and elsewhere, only this time I was teaching them. I don't teach any more, but I do a lot of talks to family history societies and other groups, who often meet in...libraries!

Now I live in lovely, leafy Buckinghamshire, within walking distance of Chesham Library, and my library card gives me access to all kinds of wonderful online sources, as well as the books, DVDs and other facilities in the library itself. So far, Chesham Library is not under threat, but others in the county are, and the Friends of Stony Stratford Library, at the other end of the county mounted a brilliant campaign, which got massive media coverage. The author, Philip Pullman made an eloquent defence of Oxfordshire libraries at a meeting on 20 January at Oxford Town Hall, which is worth reading in full.

I can't imagine how my life would have been without all the libraries I have known and loved. The way I have used them over the years has changed, but they are still essential to me. I am very pleased to say that both Firstborn and his younger brother have turned out to be avid readers (and they both write well, too), and my lifelong library addiction must have had some influence there. My elderly mother, who passed on the habit to me, still makes regular trips to her local branch library, which is within walking distance of her house, even though she needs her walking stick to get there these days.

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1 comment:

  1. Good luck with your campaign, which I support wholeheartedly - as a librarian and user of libraries since I was 7 years old. My life would not be the same without them!! Susan.

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