Twice in the week just gone I found myself in the town centre with a few hours to spare. Besides doing some errands, I decided to spend my time in the local library, an impressive facility, opened in recent years and ran in collaboration with the local college and university.
Going back to when I was a boy, I loved reading and discovered quite early on the treasures held in the local branch libraries, of which there were several, and the focus being books, especially of the more heavy duty type (although I did get to read many of the Biggles books in that early period), and for me it was an oasis for finding enlightenment. I borrowed and enjoyed many a library book during the period between junior and leaving secondary school. One of my few school achievements was to become a librarian. I recall besides helping to order and catalogue books I found a peculiar interest in the Dewey Decimal System (still used today). When I entered the world of work I didn’t visit libraries all that much, partly because if I was interested in a book I would buy it or borrow from a friend, and later still with the advent of the Internet I found when it come to acquiring knowledge etc. much of it was already out there …
When I become a community activist 18 years ago, I found libraries and librarians to be natural, albeit unexpected, allies in the work I did. There were two library staff whose remit was to develop ties to the community, especially the harder to reach, and this proved a productive partnership. It seemed libraries were continuing to reinvent themselves, such that these days it does much more than lend out books, seeking to reach out to local and disparate communities who would benefit on what was on offer. More recently, I found libraries targets when it came to how to save money. Given local authorities were being increasingly squeezed financially and as they were not fully obligated to fund the library service, we saw cut backs, notably local branch libraries threatened with closure and noncore services discontinued. Also in recent years, I made the connection between homeless people and the library as a place to go, not just to keep warm or have a quiet snooze but a place to find information as well as to access the varied reading matter. It so happened when I made my two visits to the town centre library I met a number of homeless friends, who appreciated this haven.
So once inside the library I decided to browse the books, of which there were many and so I needed to be focused, but I came up with some half a dozen to read, on a variety of subjects that are currently interesting me. I was disappointed though that books on some of the stuff I was interested in were not available (although I believe they can be ordered) and when it came to religion the selection on offer was weak, but on the other hand there was a lot of reading matter that did interest me. I found a cosy corner to settle in and spent a pleasant few hours reading. I took the odd break and it was interesting to view my surroundings and the people using the library, including students supposedly studying. I followed a similar routine the next day I was there. I couldn’t help feeling that even though these days people, especially the not so well off, have other means to access knowledge compared with yesteryear when it was a vital service, and sadly reading books is nowadays less of a societal fixation, that our libraries are treasure troves well worth holding onto and as a community we are well served by having them.