On My Local Library

I can’t really put my finger on the exact time, but at some point a few years ago I fell out of love with my local library.  It wasn’t an instant loss of affection, it was definitely a more gradual realisation of our differences.  It wasn’t completely the library’s fault, it was mostly me.

When my children were really little we used to spend hours at the library.  We would read our way through the bins of picture books, then walk along the river that runs behind the library to feed the ducks and end up at the playground.  The children always borrowed their maximum entitlement every time we went, sometimes they would borrow a dvd and I would often pick up a few things for myself too.

Then as the children got older, they were happy reading the books we owned, over and over again (you know – like when you read Room on a Broom twice a night for 3 weeks) and they built up their own collections.  Books are frequent presents for birthdays, Christmas and other occasions, actually often we just buy them because we feel like it.  The other day I popped into Waterstones to check out a few things, with no intention of spending any money, but the children mugged me for a book each, the cheeky blighters. Let’s face it though, books are not expensive.  I can buy a brand new book for slightly more than a crap magazine and a bar of chocolate, and quite honestly, a book is a lot more satisfying.  That says nothing for all the second-hand books we’ve accumulated for pennies (I’ve talked about this before, so won’t go on about my used book fetish).  So, all said, we visited the library less.  When I did go there for something, it felt a bit dowdy, untidy, it didn’t seem to have much stock, in short, I felt it had nothing to offer me.

Then this year, two things happened.

First, I became aware via local media that my county council was planning to force 10 libraries in the county to become Community Partnered Libraries (i.e. volunteer run).  My local library isn’t one of the 10, but I followed the action group working to reverse this plan.  SLAM (Surrey Libraries Action Movement) has done its best to question Surrey’s plans for the 10 libraries and has tried to prevent the plan from being rolled out to other libraries.  Their commitment to the cause made me think about how important libraries are as a public provision.  For my family the library has been about borrowing books and dvds.  There are plenty of people, (yes, even in Surrey), who can’t afford to buy books and their best option is the library.  But it also provides essential services such as internet access, newspapers, journals, local research facilities (came in very handy when I was writing Reading Around My Area), a vast audiobook choice, author events and more.  I remembered back to my childhood, when it felt like we spent every Saturday morning at the library with my Dad while my Mum was doing the grocery shop.  I loved it down there, browsing and agonising over what to borrow.  My children are now at a similar age to the age I must have been at the beginning of my affections for libraries.  I realised that to save these services, people like me need to use them.

So, then the second thing happened, or more accurately, a realisation set in.  Our house is overflowing with books, both adult and children’s.  We have simply run out of room to store our beloved reading material.  I can be ruthless to an extent and cull our collection, but there comes a point where I just can’t do it, I can’t part with them, even though I know I might not read them again – I think it’s an illness.

Anyway, all this waffle leads me to the purpose of the post.  To reduce the number of books we own in the house and to support an essential public service, we have started to use the library again.

This summer the children took part in Story Lab, the national summer reading scheme.  Both read the allotted 6 books and today the local librarians visited the older one’s school and awarded his medal during assembly.  The younger one is hoping for hers later this week.  It was really lovely to see them engaged in the books they were reading and excited to tell the librarians about them.

I have been using the library from home.  I check the catalogue online for books I want to borrow, reserve them and then collect them once I’ve had the email to tell me they are there.  I think that’s quite cool.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there is plenty the library service could do better.  For example, they never take advantage of events such as prize shortlists or special anniversaries to push certain books and create inviting displays.  Their catalogue doesn’t include newer books or books from smaller presses (I wanted to borrow Rook by Jane Rusbridge, but they don’t have it) Also, although Surrey have several author events, very few come to my local library, which is a shame.

Just because I am in the first throes of crushing on my library again doesn’t mean I will stop buying books, but I will try to borrow more so my purse and shelves don’t suffer. Here’s a little plea then; please support your local library.  If you don’t have a library card, get yourself down there and sort it out.  Big up local libraries!

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18 thoughts on “On My Local Library”

  1. My local library is set in an almost idealic position by the banks of the river wey surounded by grass and flowers it enjoys a purpose built building that is spacious and well lite. Opened in the late 1960’s it is joy to be in . Since it’s opening it’s beeb nibbled away at. The eference and study area where I revised for my exams in the 1970’s was on the 1st floor. Now it affords office space for social services. The local history collection used to occupy a space up there and it was where I leant of the bizzare story of the lady and the rabbits and wondered at all those old photo’s of the town and how little the high street had changed from the 19th centuary. The place was managed by a librarian who explained the dewey system to me and could summon up exotic items through inter libary loan.

    Gone are the study desks, gone is dewey the local history collection migaged up to the museum at the other end of town. Gone are the toilets ( nearest facility now is in the town hall)

    Not all bad the library has embrased the e book and you can now borrow via kobo’s to read on the move. Someone must also enjoy borrowing cd’s dvd’s ect and it’s hard to be grouchy about the computer corner.

    Just a shame that the librarian has been replaced by a manager and the hours are being nibbled again. Godalming is a commuter town so the late evening ate much valued by those who get back from london after 7.

    Well that enough for noiw

    Julian

    1. Wow Julian – I can understand that losing all those facilities at our library would be disappointing and annoying. You have wonderful recollections of what the place was like when it first opened. It hasn’t changed much in the 8 years I’ve been using it, except for a mini-overhaul in the kids section. I guess we should be thankful that Godalming is not one of the 10 libraries Surrey wants to hand to volunteers or close altogether. Thanks so much for adding your thoughts and maybe I’ll bump into you down there sometime!

  2. I would be completely lost without our local library. It is actually a tiny reading room built over a century ago but it has access to a city wide stock and so like you I put in my orders on line and then pop in and collect them when I’m out for a walk. I can afford to buy, but simply have no more room for books of my own, however this is a very finically poor area and without the library a lot of families would simply have to go bookless.

    1. You’re right about providing reading material for those who can’t afford to buy books, but I think libraries could do more to reach those families. BTW I like the artwork you use on some of your blogposts – who is the artist?

  3. I grew up in a house with few books in it so I have always been very grateful for libraries. I am rather envious of your kids, sounds like they have the best of both worlds. 🙂

  4. I joined the Berlin Staatsbibliothek for the same reason – our flat is overflowing with books and we’re scared that one day the floor underneath the bookshelves will cave…
    They have a pretty good collection of English books but their approach to what they procure is infuriating; they have Wolf Hall, but not Bring Up the Bodies, they have the very first and very last of the Patrick Melrose series but none of the books in between….arrrrgh!

    1. Hmm might have to get the floor reinforced! Stock issues are annoying. I went today on the hunt for German books in translation in readiness for German Lit Month in November, firstly they are hard to find on the shelf or library catalogue. The only thing I found was a Herta Mueller novella – but it didn’t really appeal. I need a short novella – thoughts?

      1. Hmmm…there are some classics that I love – Max Frisch’s Homo Faber (actually he’s Swiss, but still), or anything by Stefan Zweig (come to think of it – he’s Austrian!). Elfriede Jalenek (sp?) is really interesting. She’s Austrian (but again writes in German) and won the Nobel Prize for Lit, and people either love or hate her stuff – it’s lyrical, feminist, high crude content but anti-erotic, v. unique…Maybe Lust, is a good one to start with (her novel, the Piano Teacher was turned into a film)…

        For something new, this year I saw Thomas Pletzinger and his translator talk about his novel Funeral for a Dog, which sounded like it could be interesting but I havent read it!

        There is a fantastic German book blog that you’d like though, called Love German books: http://lovegermanbooks.blogspot.de/

      2. Oh I love that blog! She mentioned a new book she’s translated called “The Shadow Boxing Girl” which sounds interesting. Thanks for all the recommends. There were a couple of Zweig’s in the 2nd hand shop actually, maybe I’ll go back for them. No Frisch anywhere yesterday, I looked out for him. But Jelinek sounds like it could be an option…half way through writing I checked the library and they have The Piano Teacher!! have reserved it!

  5. Libraries became foreign to me in my early adult years, but I made a return last year. Before then I found myself reading the same books I already owned over and over again, occasionally throwing a newly purchased book into the mix. Now I always have checked out books to attend to, and it makes me feel young again. It’s great to support libraries, to walk through the doors, smell the books, and pick out my next treasure.

  6. I fell out of love with libraries for a while too, but then, like you, had children and fell in love with them again. My boys did the story lab challenge this summer too and it is events like that which are so important.. It is easy to forget about libraries when you are an adult lucky enough to afford the books you want, but there are many who can’t afford it and it is almost impossible to buy enough books to keep younger children happy. I agree with your post – libraries are so special.

    1. Thanks for your comment Jackie. Despite what Surrey CC is planning for the 10 libraries, I think they are doing an ok job. What’s your local like? I wish we had more author events and a bigger catalogue – although I did overhear the librarians today saying they had received 19 crates of new books, not bad.

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