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!