I couldn’t let National Libraries Day go by without a quick wee post about libraries.
I think that libraries are magic. I am still amazed by how brilliant they are. Every time I go in and bring away a load of books for free, I feel like someone’s going to catch me out and tell me that actually libraries are all a dream and were too good to be true.
The local library that I most often use, Dunfermline’s Carnegie Library has a very proud history as the first of 2509 Carnegie libraries worldwide (warning: that number comes from Wikipedia. I should have taken the time to go to the library to get a definitive number!) It’s an impressive stone building and fairly traditional inside – it smells like a library and it’s organised in a way that I find easy to navigate. But it’s also lovely and friendly, with plenty of activities going on. It’s where I go for my knitting group: a special treat is that we get to borrow books after 7pm when it’s closed. It feels like having our own amazing private library! Something to look forward to once a fortnight.
My other local library at Duloch is gradually growing on me. It’s tremendously handy as it’s in the same building as the council leisure centre (and the school, though that’s not of relevance to me), right by Tesco, and it opens till 9pm during the week. For a while I used it only for orders and drop-offs, being put off by the separation of fiction into ‘fiction’ and ‘family’ (I never know where to find things and it feels too much like ‘men’s fiction’ and ‘women’s fiction) and prominently displayed celebrity biographies. But over the last few months I’ve started to be really impressed – they’re stocking lots of books I want to read and they’ve got a fab little graphic novel section.
I love the way that I read when I’m using the library. It’s so risk-free to pick up an author I’ve never heard of (latest discovery: Ruth Thomas’s short story collection ‘Super Girl‘. I would never buy short stories and these are beautifully observed). If I start something and I don’t like it, I just take it back. I don’t end up clogging up my shelves with books that I don’t love. I have a deal with myself that if I really love a library book I’ll buy it, but I think I’ve put that into operation about 3 times in the last 5 years (Life Mask by Jackie Kay, Unless by Carol Shields, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime). I can go through little fads and phases. And when I’m feeling totally fried, I can pick up a Jilly Cooper without the embarrassment of having to take it to a till.
I can’t imagine growing up without a library, especially now that bookshops are becoming so homogenised. Although we had plenty of books at home (especially since my uncle worked for a publisher and so a birthday present was a whole box of books rather than just one), I needed to bump into things, to go where my fancy took me, not to worry that this book was more expensive than the one beside it (and therefore a more risky use for my book token). And it’s still the same principle that brings me back into my library on a weekly basis. It’s calorie-free reading, no points counting, no need for a return on investment. It’s just bliss.