I visited my local library yesterday. It felt good. I’ve joined, and I took out my twelve books. Now, I’m white and middle class. I have a vested interest in literature because of my writing and because of teaching at a university. I probably actually need my local library a lot less than some other people. I tend to buy books – I have 60 unread on shelves in my bedroom at the moment. I’m going to get a Kindle soon, so that will be another format. I get plenty of reading anyway from my students and the work I edit for Bridge House and The Red Telephone. And now I have an extra twelve books to read. I shall read them, alternating with my bought books.
My point is, that whoever said that libraries were the preserve of the white middle class has it slightly wrong. Radcliffe library was buzzing yesterday: pensioners, children doing homework, people looking up local information, using the computers and one or two reading newspapers while I suspect the other half was shopping. And despite this being Radcliffe, those people were not all white.
Going to the library brought back memories. First of all of being a child and later a sixth-former and using West Bromwich library to bits. Radcliffe library is in a rather grand building. West Bromwich is in an even grander one.
I was reminded too of visits to the library with my children who owned plenty of books but needed even more and relished our fortnightly Saturday morning visits. That particular library was housed in a converted chapel that added to the charm.
I love visiting bookshops, but libraries are somehow even better. The book carries with it the history of all the people who have borrowed it and of the care with which the librarians have chosen it and shelved it. And I smile as I think of the writer who might get some PLR because I have borrowed their book and hope that somebody is borrowing mine.
I always work in Bolton library while my car is being serviced. There is a great study area there, a good selection of books and a busy but studious atmosphere. Oh, and by the way, I’m usually the only white, middle class, working-age person there.
I had a vision yesterday of being retired – if they ever allow my husband and me to do that – and making a monthly trip – or even going more frequently – to the Radcliffe library. It would be unthinkable for it not to be there. It is well-stocked, though the non-fiction would not meet all of my needs. Maybe Bury would be better.
Yes, there is certainly still a need for libraries. The way they are used may change slightly: these days you can renew online and they will soon be lending out e-books. The shelves of books, however, must remain