Dear Lichfield Library,
I’ve been thinking about you a lot recently. Now that I have my dream job and the books that I write are finding their way into libraries and the hands of young, hungry readers (just like I was) I find myself remembering my own time at the library. I’ve always been a reader first – it’s a part of who I am, it’s the first thing I say when people ask what I like to do. “I like to read,” I say, but I really mean, I love to read, I need to read.
I remember the first time I went to the library. I was seven years old and the librarian showed me around the children’s section. There were SO MANY BOOKS. I couldn’t believe that so many books existed…and I could read all of them! The librarian made me my own library card – it was a laminated piece of green paper with my name on it. The first book I borrowed was Little Women because it was my mum’s favourite. It seemed a little daunting, and very fat and weighty compared to the books I had at school. The librarian asked gently if I was sure I wanted that one, but I was determined. I took that book home and gobbled it up. The March sisters were my new friends, the world they lived in was different and exciting – it allowed me a glimpse into a place and time outside of my own. The next weekend I returned the book and took out eight more – the maximum you were allowed. This happened every Saturday for the next few years.
I would have been lost without the library. There is no purse fat enough to satisfy an appetite for reading like mine, and I was lucky to have access to such an amazing resource…and one that was absolutely free. I read a lot of my favourite books during that time including A Little Princess (a beautiful illustrated edition that I took out almost every week to re-read!) and Anne of Green Gables (and all the others in the series). I found authors like Judy Blume and Jacqueline Wilson. I read endless series like The Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley Twins that seemed so glamorous and grown-up, and I solved mysteries alongside The Famous Five and Nancy Drew. I read fantasy, sci-fi, thrillers, and romance. I read books written two centuries apart. I read widely and joyfully, hurling myself into a book without restraint. I think as an adult reader I still feel that desire to read as wholeheartedly as I did when I got home from the library on a Saturday afternoon. These books changed my life and I carry their words of courage and empathy inside me even now.
The beautiful building that I knew as Lichfield Library is being closed down now. I think it is being turned into flats. Fortunately, the library is moving to a new location rather than disappearing altogether, but it still makes me sad. According to the BBC, 343 libraries have been closed down since 2010, and 111 more are proposed for closure over the next year. When I think about what the library did for me, the ways in which it shaped not only the path that I would take, but the person I would become… well, the thought of any child being denied that is heart-breaking. I love my life now as a reader and a writer, and so I want to say thank you. Thank you for being a safe and welcoming space for a gentle and painfully sensitive child. Thank you to all of the librarians who offered guidance and recommendations, who recognised me every week and smiled at the pile of books I checked out – the smile of a conspirator and kindred spirit. I will not forget, and I promise I will always fight for you.
With love, Laura
Laura Woods, author of new book Poppy Pym and the Double Jinx, published by Scholastic 1st September 2016.