Across the UK, thousands of libraries are facing closure. Those in local government who are seeking to save a few pounds claim that we no longer need libraries. Now that we’re in the digital age, they say, we have no need for public libraries. Yet for me, the threatened closure of the local library is truly a tragedy.
I love reading. I love books. I always have done, and always will. My mother says I wasn’t happy until I learned to read. And when I did, it was wonderful. Whole world, universes, galaxies and times were available to me.
I read voraciously and prolifically. As a 10 year old, I would max out my library card on a Saturday morning and then spend the rest of the day reading. I would devour novels about pony riding and gymnasts. I clearly had no hope of becoming either, but that didn’t matter. The books allowed me to experience a world and a life that I would never experience normally. That’s the essence of reading, for me: living someone else’s story for a whole.
In my teens, going to the library wasn’t a source of embarrassment for me: instead, it was a source of comfort, of familiarity and possibility. As a sixth form student, I would spend ages hanging around town waiting for the bus home. I would often pop in to the Library. Much more than my college library, the town library encouraged me to try reading works by DH Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, JD Salinger and Jane Austen… And I was studying English Literature.
When I’ve moved house, living in Reading, Manchester and then Lancashire, registering at the Library has always been a priority for me. My children have been registered within a month of being born – I think Ben was registered within a week! Particularly when we moved to Lancashire, I was so excited to find a library in our small town. Holding a library card made me feel like I belonged.
Now, my children both love the library. We go every week, and Ben is really confident going in. He knows where to find books for himself, and books for Samuel. He often chooses a book that is a bit challenging for him and we spend time discussing it together. We’re currently reading the Angry Birds version of Treasure Island, which is genius, and he is loving. Without the library, there’s no way I would have chosen it for him. The library really is allowing him to reach his potential.
I desperately want to pass on my love of reading to my children. It really is one of the best things in life. I am truly jealous of people who are just about the start reading what I know to be a really good series. And I do think we’re in a golden age of children’s literature: those of us who grew up with the genius of Roald Dahl are writing our own stories, and Cressida Cowell, Michael Morpurgo and JK Rowling are household names. I don’t want my kids to miss out!
Beyond fostering a love of reading, the library service is an essential service for anyone who is at risk of becoming isolated. For those without access to the Internet of to computers, local libraries provide this. It provides a safe, quiet space for those who want to study. For those wishing to escape the solitude of their own homes, it gives a reason to get out and somewhere to interact with others.
This is much more true for the smaller, local library than the big city libraries. Our local library is fairly small, and the main users of it are mums with young children and the elderly. People come for the books, yes, but also for someone to talk to, for a friendly face, for somewhere to go that is free and non-threatening. For those people, the library is a lifeline.
It’s a really special library. The librarians know Ben by name. They hold back books they think he might enjoy. They create displays which change weekly. The selection of books and DVDs is excellent. I cannot praise the staff at Whalley library enough.
However, our library is threatened with closure. This wonderful, friendly gateway to inspiration and aspiration, to escape and to community, is on the list of buildings that Lancashire County Council want to close in its cost-cutting exercise.
At the same time, the population of the area served by the library is growing by a third, due to house-building. That’s 33% more people who would benefit hugely from the local library. 33% more people who will be paying council tax, and who will have these services removed as plans currently stand.
The nearest local library would be in the next town, Clitheroe. Personally, I would avoid going to that library – it’s up steps, so you have to use an alternative entrance if you have a buggy. There isn’t any parking close by, and the children’s section is down another set of stairs. It’s also much, much less friendly – the books are checked in and out automatically, so you could easily avoid that face to face interaction. Now, if I’m saying that as a fit, young, able-bodied person, how much more difficult would it be if you had a disability? Or didn’t drive? Or had mental health problems?
This is why the local library is so essential. This is why I’m joining the fight to save our local library. I’ll be using the hashtag #SaveWhalleyLibrary on Twitter. I’ll be blogging about our favourite books and why we love our library.
But there’s something you can do too. Lancashire County Council is running a consultation on it’s website. So if you, like me, believe that the local library is essential to our community, you can complete the form too. You can find the best link here. Whalley Library is in the Ribble Valley section.