As I pedalled along last week (yes I am pedalling more than walk-ling now, impressive eh?) wondering what to write about in this post the word ‘library’ popped into my mind.
Those of you that have been with me from the beginning will recall this blog started life under the moniker “Library Lady” as at the time I worked in the local library. Libraries have always been important to me. My mother was an avid reader. Forced to leave school at 14 and go out to work she always regretted not having access to higher education. Despite her reservations I think my mother’s spontaneous, autonomous reading and learning made her one of the most intelligent people I have known. She was always thirsty for knowledge.
When I was small we regularly walked through Kensington Gardens on a circuitous route – calling in at the swings – to the public library in Paddington. Once past the librarian sitting at the counter I was safely released into what answered for a children’s library – bit spartan in the early 1960s – while my mother spent happy hours browsing the shelves looking for books she had not already read. While she looked, stopped and read a few pages from here and there I gained the precious gift of time to idle, dream and read.
At university for the first time I was the only one amongst my immediate peers who had come from a comprehensive (state school). Most were public school (private) or grammar school (selective state school). My insecurities found their refuge in the beautiful Classics Library. I still remember the wood panelling and the serried collections of books comfortably congregated in cabinets behind glass doors.
I can even recollect the smell: polish blended with the slight mustiness of old books. Delicious. By the way don’t go sniffing lungfuls from very old books I have been advised by those that know about the construction of books that some toxic nasties may have been used to construct tomes of yore. The studious silence and access to such rare and wonderful volumes was a privilege and even today a library is my bolt hole of choice.
I always enjoy a visit to the local public library. Kendal has a wonderful Carnegie library,
built in 1809 courtesy of Andrew Carnegie. Thank you Kendal Civic Society for telling us all about Mr Carnegie:
Once inside you can find an author you have not come across before, borrow music, read about far-flung places, share books, songs and toys with your children and grandchildren, research the local area in great depth, study maps, use a computer and best of all pick the brains of librarians and library staff. They are a helpful and clever bunch worth their weight in gold.
Public libraries offer space to everyone and in these increasingly hate-filled times are a beacon of brilliance providing a thoughtful sanctuary for everyone. I am sure it was no accident that Andrew Carnegie also devoted his wealth to peace studies. The carving above the door says it all:
Public libraries have often come low down the list of priorities when cash-strapped councils have to make hard choices. Libraries are an investment in the unknowable future or in areas hard to quantify. Luckily many of us (sadly not all) have been fortunate enough to retain our public libraries where most of the resources are free to use. Kendal has a busy library that is a real hub for the community. I hope that Carnegie – wherever he is now – is happy that his gift is still being used and enjoyed over a hundred years later.
A slightly guilty pleasure for me is borrowing fiction. Books that I will thoroughly enjoy in the moment but have no need to own. Here’s what I checked out on my last visit:
An Ann Cleeves Shetland thriller perfect for the dark cold nights and a bit of Townsend humour to relieve … erm … the dark cold nights.
So feel free to gather some good books around you, cosy up under a blanket with a mug of tea (coffee? or chocolate if you prefer), lose yourself in the glow of a good lamp as your reading transports you wherever you want to go.
Until next we meet