As an awkward and out-of-place teenager, books were my comfort, my inspiration and my solace.
I was – and am – a voracious reader and we couldn’t possibly have afforded to buy enough books to meet my needs and so my local library, Worcester City Library on Foregate Street was hugely important to me – I still remember my little cardboard borrower’s card in its plastic sleeve with the new-fangled barcode on the front.
I was thrilled to be allowed my Young Adult ticket before the magic age of 14 because I’d read everything I possibly could in the junior section. The YA books included titles by authors such as Lynne Reid Banks, Liz Berry, Judy Blume and yet more now-beloved KM Peyton titles such as Prove Yourself A Hero.
That card also meant that I could venture into the adult shelves too, and the librarians either didn’t notice or turned a blind eye to DH Lawrence and Jilly Cooper being slipped into my pile. It was also where the seeds of crime-writing were sown as I worked my way through the oeuvres of Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, Ruth Rendell, PD James, and the determinedly politically-incorrect John Buchan.
I remember the smell of the library – wood polish on the parquet floors, paper, and ink. I remember the high Victorian windows and the sunshine bouncing off the dust motes. The exact note of the barcode scanner’s bleep and the satisfying thump of the date stamp still echo in some distant memory from time to time. I recall the red plastic stacking chairs and the scratchy brown carpet in the children’s section, orange-plastic-and-black-metal chairs amid the stacks in the main section. I remember the museum upstairs, full of local treasures of which the only one I recall clearly is a decidedly non-local stuffed albatross.
I often went to the library with my book-loving grandmother – reading was a shared passion, habit, compulsion even. That and Scrabble. I still notice books that I know she would have loved and I still miss her. Taking out her Scrabble set and seeing her neat columns of our scores can still floor me, some eighteen years after her passing. I still read books and think how much she’d enjoy some of them.
The library gave me knowledge far beyond the small, inward-looking, city I lived in – Kes and Love In A Cold Climate gave me insights into life on a council estate and a country estate. Agatha Christie gave me a knowledge of poison that was possibly unusual and almost certainly inappropriate for a 13 year old. Paul Theroux’s talk of distant stations and souks inspired a love of travel, still there in a hankering to ride the Trans-Siberian Railway. When I got a scholarship to the local girls’ private school, I thought – wrongly – that I knew what to expect because I was well-acquainted with the Chalet School and Malory Towers.
The library showed me a world beyond what I had, gave me the confidence to leave and make the life I have now. Without the library, I would not have been the first in my family to go to university; I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I have; I wouldn’t have met my husband; I wouldn’t have the knowledge and experience and confidence to try to build a career as a writer. It all goes back to Worcester City Library.
Closing libraries takes away those opportunities for young people and means that books will only be for those wealthy enough to afford to buy them. It is another example of those who’ve done well and made it to positions of power pulling the ladder up behind them. Fewer people like me will now become politicians or lawyers or doctors or scientists or writers.
Reducing library provision means reducing opportunities, imagination and aspirations.
The people closing our libraries are wicked. There’s no other word for it.