There has recently been discussion in the bookish community online about libraries and their place in the modern society. There was a video by Ariel and then a video response from Leena. I was inspired to make a post because Blaise over at The Book Boulevard did and I’m a big fat copy-cat. So this is going to be my contribution to the discussion, which is going to include my use of libraries and also how book buying and ownership has become a big thing for me. It wasn’t intending to go down that route but it sort of veered that way naturally.
So, without further ado…
1. My Library Story
So. I loved going to the library when I was a kid. My mum took me to the library as soon as I was able to comprehend a book being read to me, I loved books and some of my fondest childhood memories are of us walking (toddling) down to the library then going round to my grandparents house and showing them what I’d borrowed that week. My library bag was generally always too full for me to carry and by the time my sister was also reading my mum had limited us to 5 books each a week because she was the poor mug that had to carry them!
The library between my house and my grandparents house was a re-purposed church and it was beautiful (as you can see on the left). The building still is beautiful but sadly it was shut as a library in 2003. This broke my 9 year old heart and I was no longer able to go to the library – the nearest one was the newly built Millennium Library in the city centre which was nearly 2 miles away. By this point I was borrowing mainly from my schools poor selection of books (Animal Ark anyone?!) and books that actually were my level of reading, that I enjoyed, became somewhat inaccessible for me!
In 2004 we moved to Scotland and I refound my love of the library. There were 2 or 3 public libraries within 2 or 3 miles of my house and my school had a beautiful library. The best day for me was when my mum signed the slip allowing me to take out the ‘adult’ books!
Moving back to Norwich I was 14 and in a wheelchair. Going to the library wasn’t an option when still the nearest library was the city so I started buying books. I tended to shop online and getting a parcel, buying books, it made me happy when I was very isolated and, really, had very little happiness going!
Since then, and I’m 21 now, I’ve not really used libraries save for my university library for textbooks but this is something I want – and need – to change.
2. Why Libraries Are Important
Especially as a child, the library was a central part of my life! Kids books are expensive and, if you have a child who is as prolific a reader as I was, then unless you’re loaded you can’t afford to buy 3 or 4 books a week, A 20 page picture book is just as expensive as a 1000 page novel in Waterstones; that’s the facts.
Libraries are cornerstones of a community – they give access to information regardless of your economic status, they’re a safe place and, in Norwich, it’s a social hub! The Forum, where the library in Norwich is housed, has a pizza restaurant and a cafe, they show movies in the summer holidays, hold art exhibitions and have pop-up markets!
People see libraries as intimidating, I think and that needs to change. Libraries need to be as inviting to the masses; young, old, the avid readers and the occasional reader. Norwich is really good in that it has a really big graphic novel and manga section which has opened a whole new reader up to the library and introduced ‘traditional’ readers to something a bit more new!
Libraries were, initially, so the masses had access to books and information in a time where it was expensive to have both. Where now it is a relatively affordable thing to do, with eReaders and phones, access to information via Google and the like… there is so much less need for the old ‘style’ of library but I think there is a gap in the market in which libraries could definitely move in to. But there is still the fact that some people cannot afford books. If it’s a choice between food or a book I would pick food and that is a legitimate choice that people have to make. People who don’t have free money at the end of the month should have just as much access to literacy as someone who does. There should not be a cost on the simple right to read.
I briefly touched on this above; books are expensive. But that feeling of owning a book is addictive! It doesn’t matter if it was 50p from a charity shop of £25 from a book shop, that feeling of walking out of a shop with a book is just amazing. I don’t get that feeling from a library. Instead I get this feeling of grief in that I know I will have to return it in 2 weeks. The feeling of ownership and the possession of books is something that is just fulfilling for me and for most other book lovers too! But this is a privilege. I used to get the happy feeling from the library, now I don’t!
Ultimately, it’s this consumerism and the need for possession that is pushing down the usage of libraries. I can’t lie, my bookshelves are the pride of my room, they’re the only thing I can honestly say I’m proud of owning. But ownership is a weird thing; I could live without owning books – it would be miserable and lonely – but I could live without owning them. However, they’re my source of comfort, my security, my one constant. Books are my ‘friends’, they’ll never abandon me. It sounds sappy and cliche but, when you’ve gone through isolation due to disability books do become your friends. Being without that comfort I don’t know what I would do!
My need to have ownership of books really does stem from being in a wheelchair when I was younger; until that point I had about 10 or 15 books in my possession that I had actively bought. Being isolated I read prolifically and couldn’t get to a library so ownership was my only way to go. I then found comfort in the ownership and I do associate books, possessing books, with comfort and happy feelings! It has become an obsession to have ‘the perfect shelf’ and ‘full collections’. I genuinely do get more pleasure out of the ownership of some books than I did the reading of them!
My bookshelves are crippling and I have well over 200 books in my possession and a TBR of around 160. This debate about using libraries, the cost of books and the “Kill Your TBR” type things are really starting to make me want to slow this need to own books. One, I don’t particularly have room for them and two, I don’t really have the funds in which to keep up with my level of buying.
4. To Sum it all Up…
Libraries are important. While I woefully neglect mine that’s something I’m going to change over the coming years. It’s going to take time, I know that. Essentially, I have a book buying addiction. It could be worse, but it is eating away at my bank balance; it isn’t really sustainable. I do buy all books with the intention of reading, I cannot think of one book I’ve bought for the sheer need to own but I can think of several books that I have bought that my interest in has dwindled and I loathe to part with them.
Libraries maybe do need to evolve; rather than shutting them down change how they operate, bring in new audiences, do inventive things… There are so many things that libraries can do for a community and so few things that some seem to want to do. I know the library where I am is a blessing. It is wonderful. I know not everyone is that lucky. It’s not difficult, changing one thing such as opening later one or two nights mid-week or opening half-day on Sunday just so those working can go to a library without being stretched for time! There’s so much opportunity for libraries to evolve and come in to the 21st century, so many things that they could do to be more appealing and accessible to all ages.
I love libraries. I want libraries to remain. I want to use my library more. Ultimately, I intend to start capping my buying but that is another story altogether!
I’d love to hear your opinions on this discussion! Do you use your library? Do you also have a book buying addiction?
Thanks for reading!