Library Memories

Libraries:
A fairly innocuous word for a fairly groovy place.

If you have any interest at all in “The World of Books“™  then you’ll probably be aware that there has just been a Worldwide Libraries Day.

Whether this has been required due to recent developments in the fates of libraries, or whether it was simply happenstance, the fact remains: Libraries are being closed down all over the place!

As a writer, I think this is pretty bad form.
But as a reader I think this is appalling.

I’ve been reading a lot recently about libraries losing funding, closing down, having to suffer the indignities of fund-raising, and even being disallowed permissions to raise funds which could keep them open. And the usual excuse given is “We cannot afford to keep them open.”

At a time when child literacy in Scotland suggests that 1 in 6 children cannot read to a standard level, when gaming devices proliferate (as sales of e-books drop), and yet—where the education system has become an even bigger pawn in the interminable political morass—libraries are being closed down.

To put it bluntly… this is a disgrace.

As a child the library was almost my second home.
I became well known to all the cheerful and helpful people (mostly women) who ran my local library (Was Ardler Library, then it was a Part of the Ardler Community Centre, and now it is a part of the Ardler Complex.)

The building itself is the same, although the inside has altered dramatically.
One section is given over to a few PCs, the massive banks of books have dwindled quite a bit, and the worst thing of all – the WONDERFUL banks of Card Index drawers have given way to a PC database.

card index

 

But the most important thing about it is… it still exists.

In that library I read everything I ever found interesting.
My parent’s house was far from bookless, but I’d read them all, and books were not something one generally purchased. Living on the slightly poorer side of the societal norms, that’s what libraries were for!

My Father and I shared a love of Asimov, Bradbury, Ellison and even Charles Schulz’ Peanuts! (Although the Library never had any of them.)
I devoured every book I could find by Bradbury and Asimov, and the librarians were always keen to help me find them. Eventually, my Father let me bring him back whatever I chose for him. And I was known enough at the Library to be allowed to take out… “Adult Section Books” (always on the look-out for more of Asimov’s “Black Widowers” mysteries!)

It was thanks to that that I was introduced to the Ed McBain 87th Precinct novels (an ADULT book!) by an old woman who was browsing at the same time as me.

“Hello son,” she said. “Lookin’ for anythin’ special?”
I explained that I was looking for a crime book for my dad, and that he liked Sherlock Holmes stories.
“Well, it isnae Sherlock Holmes, but he might like this!” she pointed to a small paperback novel.
‘Axe,’ it read. ‘Ed McBain.’
With a cover showing a neat shirt.
With a log of wood in place of the neck and head.
With small hatchet buried into the top of it.

axe

I was hypnotised by the cover. It was unlike any I had ever seen before.
I had it checked out in minutes. And thus began my, and my Father’s, life-long appreciation for Ed McBain. Whether my father guided my taste in literature, or we simply found the same things enthralling (I go with the latter, as I’ve never really been able to get into Arthur Conan Doyle) I don;t know for certain.

But, as my tastes matured, I realised that Bradbury had written for all ages (although The Hallowe’en Tree is still something I read at least once every couple of years) and Asimov’s more expansive works (Like the Foundation Trilogy – later ‘Series’) slotted in well to those tastes.

I slowly began to find my own authors; C.S. Lewis, Tolkein, and of course I had always been a fan of Lewis Carroll. Then names like Stephen King and James Herbert began to creep into my borrowing record. By the time I had my first part-time job, at age 16, I was buying more books than I borrowed. But I still used the library for researching some of my own scribblings.

Now, some 36 years… (THIRTY SIX!?) …on from that time, I am still visiting (though, admittedly not as often.) I pored through histories and newspapers articles etc (The joys of microfiche!) while writing my first real Children’s novel “The God of All Small Boys“, and I also ensure that the two small boys – Whom I have inherited from my partner  🙂  – regularly visit.

Libraries have had to change with the times, no doubt, in an age of cheap e-books and electronic distraction – but to see graphic novels by Miller and Grant and yes, even Gaiman, sitting alongside more mainstream children’s books, gives me hope that the journey is only beginning for the boys.
I hate to think that the day would ever come when—in an effort to ensure the world still has more nuclear bombs to wipe us all out ten times over—libraries are nothing more than another dimly recalled memory.

So, it’s up to us to make sure than never happens:

Use your local library.
Force Encourage your children, or nephews and nieces to do the same.
And DEMAND that local politicians champion their cause.

Let’s try to make Library Day far more regular than once a year!

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