Thursday 9 July 2015

Read it in books

Temple of learning/ David Dixon

I've been a member of a public library since I could read, this is why

I was four years old when my mother told me news that changed everything.

Realising that my desire to read books was getting past the levels that she could afford, she said, “I’m going to have to take you to the library.” She then explained what a library was, which I understood as a place where I could get as many books as I wanted every week. For free.

I found that hard to believe, I mean, as a kid, you just don’t think life can get that good, so the next day I was taken into our local museum, pausing only to look at, and fail to comprehend, the Foucault’s pendulum in the entrance hall and in front of a tall desk, where she had a chat with the lady there and then four small pieces of card were passed down to me and I was told to go through into the large room beyond and choose some books.

Not believing my luck I dashed in and…

I suddenly stopped. The place was absolutely full of books, more than I ever saw before. This was the children’s library and it blew my unformed mind away. The idea that I could go and choose my own books, make my own decisions, and then go away and read them was like standing on the edge of a whole new world.

It still blows my mind today, with 46 year of membership of a public library behind me.
This was the start of weekly trips to the library. In fact the first time that I caught a bus on my own, with parental approval, was to go and return my books.

Like any addict, my reading habit got stronger and a few years later, I was sneaking into the adult library, mainly because they had better books and a lot more of them. Then I discovered a reference library upstairs. I learned a lot more in that building than in my schooling.

Even though many years have passed, my memories of the library are today among the clearest and most joyful of my life. I owe this to my parents who taught me to read before I ever went to school and to those reformers and philanthropists that saw the social importance of public libraries.

Think of them as a precursor to the internet, a knowledge network available to all, pretty much for free.

But what is the future of libraries? Every time there are calls for cuts in public services a library or more get closed.

They’re branching out into becoming an internet cafĂ© and filling the shelves with DVDs.
The world is moving to the rather austere and clinical e-book and Kindle. Cuts publishing costs but how do you borrow one?

Is my generation the last of the book lovers? It does seem that we’re becoming a more visual society, where people don’t listen to music, they watch music videos.

That’s putting it too bleakly, there have been some wonderful initiatives, like the Poems on the Underground, started in London and now in cities worldwide and the Commission is keen on encouraging reading.

I like that Commissioner Vassiliou is advocating reading for fun.

When was the last time a Commissioner wanted to put more fun in your life?

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