I love to read. I mean really, really love it. I grew up an only child and was always comfortable alone – as long as I was alone with a book. My mum tells me that on parent’s evening, teachers would mention that they’d often caught me reading under the desk, and I sometimes avoided all common sense and street safety and walked home with my nose in the pages.
I have been known to forgo sleep to finish something particularly gripping. I treat my books with respect, but I’m not precious about them either: unless it’s a special copy or belongs to someone else or a library, I will read in the bath and have been known to read in the shower (I know.) I’ll read in the car even when I feel carsick, and the default gift for me is book tokens.
This is why libraries are so important. I grew up with my mum, who worked tirelessly and hard, but we certainly didn’t have the kind of disposable income that could sustain my book habit. We went to the library often and picked out books together. I read so quickly that we became regular fixtures. The library was a lifeline for kids like me and parents like my mum, and they provide so many other services too. They provide Internet access to those who cannot afford it or access it at home, they act as free community centres, and many run adult literacy groups.
I’ve been lucky enough to use many libraries in my lifetime: at University, burrowing into books on historiography; for personal use, working my way through books both classic and popular. I’ve continued to buy books when and if money allows, and they continue to be my default birthday gift.
But libraries, particularly the local library of my childhood, are still important to me. They allowed me entry into innumerable imaginary worlds, introduced me to some of my best friends and favourite stories. They helped me to learn and gave me joy. With the recent news that Michael Gove is axing some of my most loved books - To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men among others - from the curriculum, they seem even more important for kids – and everyone – who want to access all kinds of literature.
The Guardian reported last year that by 2016, the government might have closed 1,000 libraries. Hundreds have already been shut down. In a recession, this may seem like the sensible choice, the closing of those facilities least necessary. But I would argue that libraries are one of the few remaining institutions where it doesn’t matter where you came from, what pay bracket you belong to, what your abilities are – you are afforded the same opportunities. You can have a safe, welcoming space in your town or city where you have access to some of the greatest stories ever told and the freedom to read them. Surely that’s worth protecting.
Are you a member of your local library?