The main purpose of this little post is to direct your attention over here, to Philip Pullman’s rather brilliant speech on the importance of libraries, and to say something about why I think they’re precious too.
I can trace my love of reading all the way back to two specific books, both read to me by my Mum before bed when I was very small; One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and Uncle Scrooge the Lemonade King (the Uncle Scrooge book I apparently asked for over and over again, every night. Drove Mum round the bend). I owe Mum an awful lot for igniting the spark that would lead to a life long obsession and, eventually, writing my own books. I owe my Mum and I undoubtedly owe my library.
Inevitably with this sort of story we didn’t have a lot of money when I was a kid, so libraries were essential. I asked for books for every birthday and Christmas but my appetite for reading has always been slightly out of control, so I needed something new to read almost all the time. After every visit I would leave our local library with an armful of books, and be back again the following week. I went through the children’s sections, (which at Welling Library was a rather lovely space upstairs) like a ravening locust, and was eventually allowed to explore the grown-up’s library too; that was an exciting day, let me tell you. That was where I first picked up a copy of Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl. If I was going to make a list of the most significant books in my life in chronological order, it would probably go – Uncle Scrooge the Lemonade King; Tales of the Unexpected; The Lord of the Rings; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Just by browsing those shelves I found a hundred different books I’d never have found otherwise, and they took me to a thousand different places I’d have never seen.
And libraries don’t just open up the world of reading to everyone with a library card; they provide all manner of information and services that make our lives a little brighter. I wrote the vast majority of the first draft of The Steel Walk in a library, taking full advantage of the quiet study area and unique atmosphere that is “Library Space”. We’re all skint, I get that, but perhaps some people need to think a little harder about what we will be losing if we start chopping wildly at the institutions that don’t have very much to do with money, but everything to do with humanity. As Neil Gaiman said “…a culture that doesn’t value its librarians doesn’t value ideas and without ideas, well, where are we?”.