All round the country today events are being planned on Save the Libraries Day. I find it difficult to sit and write about the threatened closure of so many libraries without steam issuing from both ears and a stream of four letter words from my mouth. The level of illiteracy in this country is truly shocking, children struggle to learn to read and so many homes do not contain books so a child will never ever have access to the printed page.
As a child I remember my visit to the junior library - in those days it was the Brown system, one book per ticket so books had to be carefully chosen. By the time I had haunted the library for weeks, Miss Collins (oh she of blessed memory) was so tired of seeing me that she allowed me to take out two books per ticket so now I could choose six at a time. Bliss. The library was part of St Pancras public libraries (now Camden - oh horror) and this particular branch, Gatesden, was in the basement at the bottom of a block of council flats. Could not do that now - it would be wrecked and vandalised in no time at all. If I close my eyes I can see it now, non fiction to the right, fiction to the left and a small closed off reference section where I could sit and do my homework.
It was at Gatesden that I borrowed all of the Malcolm Saville books, Trouble at Witchend etc, read all the 'Wells' books of Lorna Hill, the Kathleen Fidler books about the Brydon family, Mabel Esther Allen, K M Peyton and Jill's Gymkhana (name checked in VIcar of Dibley years later!) even though I knew nothing about ponies and riding. There was a series of books on Great Composers in the non-fiction section written especially for children with interspersed sheets of music and explanations of the works. From these books I learned what a fugue was and that Haydn was known as Papa Haydn and that poor Beethoven went deaf and could not hear his glorious 9th Symphony when it was premiered. Facts from these books stayed in my mind and years later, as an adult at a concert, I would suddenly think 'Oh that is what they meant' when I heard a rallatando or a diminuendo. Don't tell me that things you read as a child don't stay with you all your adult life.
It was also at this library that one day I came across a tiny little Oxford World Classics - shiny and new and never borrowed or taken out - and decided I would take it home with me. I was ten at the time and Miss Collins asked if I was sure I wanted to read it. 'Oh yes' said I blithely and she said she would be interested to hear what I thought of it. Well, that put me on my honour to make sure I did read it and I did. I loved the first half, did not really understand a lot of the second and did skip some pages, but I remember feeling totally overwhelmed by it and eager for more. And the book? Jane Eyre. This is what started me off on my love of the classics and all things Victorian and every time I look at my copy sitting on the shelf I remember that tiny little book. It had a crimson cover and I have the very same edition now in my possession, tatty cover and all which I came across in a second hand shop and had to have.
OK I am rambling, nothing new I hear you cry, but I so want people to know how important the reading experience is for a child and any cuts in their services and closures is just plain WRONG and shortsighted. When I read of the huge bonuses still being pocketed by bankers, the obscene amount just being paid to a footballer who has probably never read a book in his life (yes and I know I am falling for a stereotype here and I could be wrong) and the expenses that MPs claim and....oh I had better stop as the steam coming out of my ears is getting worse.
I ended up working in Camden libraries from the age of 16 for a period of twelve years, (a very happy five years in the Highgate Carnegie library here) and a year before that as a Saturday girl and am steeped in the love of the public library. It has shaped my reading life and, indeed, all my life and I am filled with sorrow that the joy I discovered at the age of 7 is being denied to so many children who will never know what they have missed as they will never have the experience.
They will be the poorer for it.