Bringing library closures to book

25 Apr

reading

My heart sank this week to learn of the demise of the local library – with more than 200 libraries up and down the country closed last year due to Councils’ spending cuts, 170 so called community-run libraries being kept afloat thanks to unpaid volunteers, and hundreds more facing closure.

Since arriving in Brittany a couple of weeks ago, myself and the little one have already acquainted ourselves with the excellent local library here (albeit for a nominal fee). Reading the likes of Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (Little Red Riding Hood) and Le Lapin (The Rabbit) are not only quenching my daughter’s thirst for a story, but improving both our French.

Our regular library visits (which date back to her very first months) by no means precludes a burgeoning book collection of her own, but the benefits of learning about borrowing books from a library extends beyond the cost savings. Flicking erratically through the array of titles (invariably starring an animal as the main protagonist), and sitting on her own to ‘read’, while I peruse loftier titles (ahem), is particularly rewarding for mademoiselle. Even returning the books is teaching her a valuable lesson about looking after borrowed items and sharing with other children. Not forgetting the social aspect of meeting and greeting other library users and staff.

My personal passion for libraries is relatively recent, admittedly. This is perhaps, in part, due to the fact that as a child books were readily available in our house, and in my teenage years, my passion for reading was fuelled by my grandmother – a voracious reader, with whom I could freely discuss not only books, but music, fashion and my latest crush.

As an English Literature undergraduate in the early ‘90s I developed a love/hate relationship with my university library – not unlike the haunted library in Ghostbusters, mysteriously catalogued and with an eerie quietness which made me want to blurt out some profanity, Tourette’s style, to break the uncomfortable silence. Where the student grant allowed, novels, plays and poetry would be purchased, untouched by human hand, from Blackwell’s and devoured back at my digs. Countless afternoons spent curled up on my ramshackle sofa, never far from a boiling kettle and the biscuit tin; far more conducive to literary digestion than sitting straight-backed and silent at a rigid desk.

Aside from a brief encounter with an academic library in the name of professional development, I pretty much managed to put the sweaty-palmed experience of libraries behind me until 2010. I didn’t give up reading– I just preferred to pick up books on Amazon, or on a whim in the airport WH Smiths.

The combination of tightened purse strings and an expanding belly forced me to venture tentatively into the local library to swot up on baby-rearing techniques. Of course I consulted the internet too, but physical books by recognised authors, with their forewords and friendly pictures, seemed to provide greater comfort and reassurance in light of the challenges ahead. Greeted by a cheery face and intuitively displayed books, I could easily find everything from romantic fiction, to travel books and indeed, baby manuals – with comfortable seating to boot! (In actual fact, mother’s instinct was never far wrong, but Tracy Hogg’s Secrets of the Baby Whisperer provided a good foundation).

Later, with a pram in tow, the local library had even greater appeal, – with nursery rhyme CDs, ‘bounce and rhyme’ classes and information about local playgroups and activities.

Library visits and our nightly reading sessions continue to be met with gusto by my daughter and I am relieved that I overcame my library phobia in good time for her to enjoy this particular habit.

I also count my own blessings for having been given an early introduction to reading and books and strongly support efforts to protect our local libraries, which are such an important gateway to reading and ergo, life chances, for many young people who may not be able to access books so readily at home.

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