I have very clear memories of visiting the library as a child. We were lucky enough to have plenty of books at home, but visits to the library introduced me to new stories and authors – I discovered Judy Blume there, and the Sadler’s Wells series by Lorna Hill that kept me enthralled for years. I had my own little pink paper pouch containing 10 plastic tokens and after making my selection I would take them to the front desk, where I handed over a token for each book, and the librarian stamped the return date in the front covers.
Things are a bit more hi-tech these days – my little boy already knows how to swipe his own card in the self-service machine – but the thrill of being let loose in a room full of books is the same. We visit the library most weeks to take books back and choose new ones, and Arthur loves being given free rein to pick whatever appeals. Some are rubbish (I hope the Ben and Holly phase is short-lived), some are wonderful, and the library helps to show him there is a wealth of books to explore, and the amazing worlds they can open up.
It is also one of the few free indoor places to take the children for an hour or two on wet days when we’re all in danger of a meltdown if we don’t get out of the house. That alone makes it invaluable as far as I’m concerned, and that’s without going into all the other services it provides for us and many others – reference books, internet access, printing and photocopying facilities, newspapers, a meeting place, talks and groups, somewhere to go where you can sit and read and think without having to hand over £3 for a cup of coffee. So it depresses me to see endless cuts to library services around the country and reports of decline in use (which is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy – how can you use your local library if it’s hardly ever open?). Luckily, lots of other people agree that libraries are wonderful and there are some very active campaigns to keep publicly funded libraries open. Earlier this year members of the public even occupied the Carnegie Library in Lambeth in protest at its closure. It’s cheering to see that, even if politicians don’t value libraries, many people still do. And I hope that in 30 years time my children’s children will be discovering all they have to offer.