As a book blogger, I don't think I would have read as many brilliant books as I would have done had I not had access to a library. There is something truly brilliant when entering a library, sometimes multiple stories, devoted entirely to books. That you can bring home with you, for free! There is a lot of stick about the whole library system, about the cleanliness of the books that go in and out of homes constantly, whether the library is still somewhere people visit still or if it's money wasted that could be put more effectively into things like heath care or education. I can see the cons of libraries but for a reader and someone who has to stop herself grabbing every book I see, the pros are far more dominant and far more important than money.
Libraries, like reading itself, are technically a form of entertainment. But for some it's an experience. From a young age, my Nan, a person I spend a large amount of time with in my childhood because both my parents worked full time, encouraged me to venture to the library frequently, be it somewhere to drop me off while she went food shopping in the summer holidays, browse the books for the next exciting thing to read or to go to one of the many activities or workshops my local library hosted. It's fair to say libraries have been a central part of my childhood and grown up with me.
Throughout my younger years, I always visited the same library, not realising there were others I could go to. This library was so small but most of it was taken up by computers and the children's section. I loved rifling through the books, always avoiding the 'Teenage' section on the right hand wall. I loved looking through the DVD's although I only took one out on occasion (in my library you have to pay to take out the DVD's). I liked sitting in the silence absorbed in a book, I liked the temporary ownership of a book that you didn't need to buy necessarily, you could spread the love of the book to strangers. Let's face it, the book that was the most popular was always the one with the ripped pages and pages upon pages of stamps dating back 5 years or so. This single library blossomed my love for literature, introduced me to the teenage genre after I'd read nearly all the good books in the 9+ section. It's where I remember discovering authors such as Patrick Ness, Sarah Dessen, Caroline Lawrence, Jane Austen, Anna Godbersen, Mary Hooper and N.M.Browne who I all still love and cherish their books today.
When I was about probably 13/14 (so like 4/5 years ago), I suddenly discovered the library system out of this single library in the other nearby towns. They were in much bigger, elaborate buildings - an old government building and an old school - and with that they had bigger 'Teenage' sections and a better selection of books. I abandoned the original library I frequented for these others because I was older and they had better selections in both the 'Teenage' and 'Fiction' sections. I always knew about my old library and did consider revisiting several times but I thought I would never find anything I wanted to read having read most of the good books there already. A couple of years ago, in my area they modernised the libraries, having new cards (although I STILL use my original library card I've had since I was about 5), new systems and in turn, these machines to replace the librarians that you borrow, return and check your account from. Ironically, I can go to the library without talking to a single person because of the introduction of these self-serve machines. The two libraries I visited got refurbished and I was accustomed to that, I guess always assuming nothing would happen to the library I originally visited in my younger years.
That was until last week. I got off the train at a different stop, a stop that my train stops at less frequently but is closer to my house. I was earlier having been allowed to miss my last lesson. I was in a good mood, it was the start of half term and I didn't want to face my mother sooner than necessary. I found myself wandering through the charity shops, walking down the alleys I visited when I was younger, buying something in the local Tesco's and then suddenly, my feet found themselves outside my old library. My first library in a way. On walking in, I was in a little bit of shock. There used to be a huge circle desk in the middle, meaning you had to walk entirely around it before you reached the Children's section. There would always be 4 or 5 librarians working at the desk, talking to you as you walked in, getting one more person to sign up to the library. Although from the outside it looks the same as it did 10 years ago, the inside is completely different. It's much more open plan, more spacious with a small desk with one librarian I didn't recognise in the corner with three of these self-serve machines surrounding him - on guard in a way. I glanced in the children's area. Now, that was completely UNCHANGED although with the addition of some noisy secondary school kids talking about who they love and who they hate. I looked at the 'Teenage' section which, although with some newer books, still had the books I had borrowed years ago, still ripped from love, still with their plastic covers attached. It was a real blast from the past.
I wasn't going to get anything out of the library after exploring it for about 10 minutes. Until I came across a 'Young Adult' section near the door. It was then something came to mind. This library isn't the most popular and I would be surprised if I learnt it was at danger of closing down. But this is the first library where I've seen a completely separate 'Teenage' and 'Young Adult' section. It struck me how much this library must care or know about the current book market, they understand the difference between YA and Teenage books which I don't think even at work they do. Sometimes I feel ashamed, being 18, and still reading teenage books, I feel I should have moved on by now but I can't tear myself away. But on seeing this, I know there is a difference between the two and it was heart-breaking in a way to see that a library, I hadn't loved for years, understood that more than a bookshop or any of the bigger libraries. To me, it showed they were trying to accommodate for young people such as myself, helping us read books for our interest and age. There was a mixture of books I know were YA and books I would have thought would be in the 'Fiction' section.
I'm not sure why I had such an emotional response to finding the 'Young Adult' section in my local, neglected library - I guess the building just means a lot to my childhood and to my contribution to the blogging world.
The icing on the cake really was when I was leaving. I saw this lady who I did recognise talking to another librarian. She turned around and caught my eye and I remembered her from working part-time at the library, part-time at my nursery and had known my Nan well. She looked so surprised to see me that she actually hugged me. She exclaimed 'Rebecca! How are you? How old are you now?' I replied I was fine and I had just turned 18. The look on her face was just pure shock, probably remembering a 7 year-old Rebecca charging towards the children's area. Then, she said 'I haven't seen you here in a while, what's happened? Have you gone off reading?' I think it was my turn to look shocked, I told her I was reading more than ever and briefly mentioned the blog which she was delighted to hear about saying she'd check it out. I left with my library books, looking forward to going back and seeing her again, amazed she remembered me after so long.
My encounter really just shows the value of community on libraries and bookshops and how although we've had libraries for as long as many of us can remember, they aren't stuck in the past - they move with it. And something like that vale of community you will not find on Amazon.
UPDATE: A day after writing this, I was speaking to my assistant manager about the teenage section at work and he suggested putting a Young Adult section in!
To (I hope) enhance what I'm trying to say about libraries, I asked Lucy from Queen of Contemporary to tell me a little bit about what she thinks:
"I can't remember a time when I didn't enjoy going to the library. From a young age, I was encouraged to pick up as many books as the library allowed and then would spend the afternoon reading them with my mum. So, you see, I have been an avid reader from day one. Why should we support our libraries? That's an easy question to answer, for me. Libraries aren't just there for people who like silence or old, dusty tomes; they're there to help people who don't have enough money to buy books themselves or don't want to splurge out on a book they're only going to read once. I know that a library local to me runs lots of events for both readers and writers and I am going to be fortunate enough to attend two of these next week. More of us should be going to the library because otherwise they'll be shut down. I know a lot of libraries in England are losing their funding and are having to close and there are a lot of people who feel passionate enough to campaign and really do something to make a change. Of course, libraries don't only contain books. They also have DVDs, music and audio books on offer and some even have internet access for you to use. So we really do need them in more ways than you could think."