Every time I see yet another tweet asking people to help save a local library, it makes me want to smash things. To the government I’m sure library closures are the natural ending for a “dead-end” resource; for them there’s little point in a place that needs staffing, heating, lighting, and stocking, but makes no money by return. But to me, and to people like me, libraries are the foundation worlds are built on. They’re a refuge, a school, an atlas, a home. Libraries have been my friend and saviour from the day I discovered them, and they continue to be, even today.
I’m always very envious of other authors who talk happily about their lifelong relationship with books, growing up surrounded by them, nightly choruses of ‘just one more chapter’.
I didn’t grow up with a family of readers, you see. Though my father read two newspaper daily, and we had a magazine version of the television guide every week, there were no books. Because of that I was never encouraged to read for pleasure (though in fairness I was never discouraged from reading either). I don’t recall being told a bedtime story.
But despite this, I craved words. From nowhere came this love of stories; I would read the newspapers, not understanding the content but liking the sentences all the same. I would read the back of crisp packets, I would dawdle to read signs. Bus tickets, receipts, anything like that. Words were my jam. The Scholastic Book Fair coming to my school was like an extra Christmas. I loved books. I cherished the few books I had, re-reading them over and over.
You can imagine, then, what a day it was for me when I found out I could take books home from the school library. It was a rainy lunchtime, and I’d started reading a magical, wonderful book. And when the bell rang I’d put it back, only for the librarian to tell me I could borrow it, if I liked.
I filled out a little card with my name and class on, and the librarian stamped the book. It was mine for a fortnight. And I read it over and over and then I went back for more.
And so began my lifelong love affair with libraries. I used the school library every week until I left. At senior school, I joined the library in my first week, thrilled I could now have four books per fortnight. In my second year I became a school librarian and spent one lunchtime and two afterschool periods per week stamping and shelving and living la vida librarian.
At thirteen I joined the local library. It was a half hour walk away, twenty minutes if you cut through the woods. I always cut through the woods. In summer I liked to read there, curled up against dead tress with Anne Rice, Stephen King, and James Herbert. The local library gave you an adult ticket if you were thirteen or over, so I read what I wanted. No one stopped me.
When I left my parents’ house and moved to a different part of the city, I joined the library there before I found myself a doctor. When I finished university and was unemployed, single again for the first time in four years, and living with my Nana, I went to the library every day, to look fill out online job applications, and to get books to take home with me. I read Daphne Du Maurier, Eoin Colfer, Jane Austen, Nick Hornby, Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood, Stephenie Meyer. I read without prejudice, I read because it was all I could think of to do to stop myself flying apart.
Until reading became writing. Until I was so full of other people’s stories that my own started to form, wild and bad and unrefined. I started to become a writer. An undisciplined one, but one nevertheless. When I finally got myself together and moved to Essex, I joined the library on my second day there. Because for me, a library card is more essential than a towel. Knowing where your towel is might make you look competent, but having a library card is an access all areas pass to the world. It’s solid gold proof you are competent. And cool.
It was libraries that led me to where I am now. That made me into someone who wanted to tell stories and be a writer. So the fact this incredibly valuable resource is slowly being stripped away from our communities cuts me to the bone. It means children like I once was are losing the chance to access books, and learning opportunities, that their lives might not otherwise offer them. It means young people who come from families where reading isn’t popular might truly have no organic way to try to nurture and explore that passion in themselves. It frightens me that if I were a young person today, the chances are I wouldn’t have this extraordinary and valuable resource in my local community. Without libraries, generations are being robbed of their potential. That cannot be allowed to continue.
The Sleeping Prince by Melinda Salisbury is the second book in The Sin Eater’s Daughter trilogy. It is out now.
This guest post was provided by Melinda Salisbury. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.