I had the fortune (or misfortune depending on if your an Essex girl or not) of growing up in a small seaside town called Frinton On Sea. Churches outnumbered pubs 5-1 so it was no surprise my first kiss happened not behind the traditional bike shed but behind the church hall stage. Let’s just say there was not much to save you if you didn’t say grace, except for endless Walkman plugged in walks along the beach and a delve into a world you didn’t know of yet courtesy of the local library.
The local library saved my soul. It was here I had my first brush with homosexuality via Maurice, Brideshead and that cliched first if not so informative encounter with Radcliffe Hall’s Well Of Loneliness (I’ve never been that keen on equastrain love). They went some way to telling me I was not alone, even I desired a kind of love that apparently dare not speak its name.
Of course I’m not gonna claim closing libraries will inhibit today’s LGBT youth from coming out but I can’t help but feel deeply saddened by the proposed library closures and cuts across the UK. Books may seem more available than ever before thanks to supermarket book deals and internet access but none of these, unlike the libraries, are free to the user regardless of class, income or age. Joan Bakewell says it better than me for the BBC’s Point Of View on Radio 4 here.
There’s a sweet rubber stamped, index carded, bookish smell to my childhood memories of libraries I will always cherish and happily pay any overdue fine on. I devoured print as a child, an addiction my mother could never have fed without the library. And that smell, even the texture of that particular kind of rubber zig-zag doormat that you feet hit as you entered this world of possibilties, will always be with me. As will the world of Winnie The Pooh, Stig Of The Dump, Alice In Wonderland, Forster, The Great Gatsby, Oscar Wilde, The National Geographic, Lawrence, Sassoon, Alan Bennett, Hemingway, Where The Wild Things Are and even The Hungry Caterpillar. World’s sometimes positive, sometimes sad, sometimes hard, sometimes comforting but always free and always illuminating. And its the type of illumination we shouldn’t put out with shortsighted cuts.
Yes these are hard times and hard choices need to be made but surely we shouldn’t close the book on a very British, philanthropy driven institution without a serious consideration. The stories we read mean too much to us.
For more info on what you can do to save libraries from closures or cuts please check out Voices for Libraries