a love letter to my local libraries

Dear Various Libraries I Have Enjoyed,

As a child I was fascinated by you, East Finchley library, and would often spend Saturday mornings in you. You were (and still are) an enormous grand building, the most grand in the neighbourhood, and you always had a very particular and peculiar smell. Not just the musty smell of books, it was something else, but I was never able to place it. Behind heavy brass-handled doors, your children's section was a small room lined with bookshelves which also contained wooden boxes full of picture books for the younger readers. Your huge windows (which were many-a-time adorned with brightly coloured pictures or paper snowflakes) meant that you were always bright and inviting, even in the winter. After what seemed like hours of perusing your shelves I was allowed a satisfyingly tall pile of books to take home for the week. I could barely see over the top of your check-out desk, but was so fascinated by what was happening that sometimes I was held up so I could properly examine what the librarians were doing with my new books.

This passion for you, libraries, has been with me my whole life. I have always found you to be a thoroughly calming and soothing atmosphere and at university I often found myself within your huge curved walls when I was feeling a bit sad or lost or just needed somewhere to sit alone and contemplate life, the universe and everything, as well as, of course, for research purposes. I spent countless hours under your highly decorative plaster ceilings, Somerset Place, reading articles, books and journals while in the midst of writing my dissertation. Unlike my contemporaries, I didn't trust using the internet for the bulk of my research (it almost felt like I was cheating) so I would sit and watch films from the Golden Age of cinema in the tiny booth beside your huge, ornate, unused fireplace, and then read through numerous psychology books, trying to analyse everything I could about the actors I had just watched. When my dissertation was complete, I felt such a sense of pride and satisfaction that it had all been done, and that my bibliography was more substantial than just a list of websites, like it quite easily could have been. That's not to say I didn't appreciate your vast computer room, dear library, it just wasn't suitable for dissertation-writing. You know I had my special spot, the computer at which I always sat, and I was very comfortable there, but I knew there was more to you than your computers, unlike the majority of students who didn't see in you what I saw, and used you only for your technology. On their behalf, I can only apologise.

My newest libraries, Marcus Garvey and Wood Green, you are very different from the other libraries I have known and loved. I don't feel as calm or secure in you as I did in the others, but you do have your own little quirks. About a week ago I received a text message from one of you (I was very impressed) telling me that I had two books overdue. You can ask the other two, I promise I'm not the kind of person who usually lets books get overdue. I checked my online account and it informed me that my beautiful red library card had expired and that the books had failed to renew. Oh dear: 3 weeks, 2 books, I was going to owe you a hefty amount! But I didn't mind, it all helps keep you running smoothly.

I didn't have a chance during the week to visit you after work, but I couldn't handle the guilt of having an unpaid fine against my name, so at the weekend I went to see the lovely ladies who work in you. Initially, the lady I spoke with told me that I couldn't renew my card without a form of ID with my address on it, which I didn't have, but as soon as the other lady behind the counter saw how much I was you paying in fines, she remarked, "I doubt anyone would come in and offer to pay someone else's fine! The least we can do is renew the card if she's giving us all that money!" I love old ladies, particularly the ones who are drawn to work in you guys. She reminded me of a lovely lady I used to work with when I volunteered at a charity shop when I was a teenager, so it was impossible not to warm to her immediately. Sometimes I wonder if I would make a good librarian - I think I would get too irritated with people who put your books back in the wrong places, and would probably suffer a nervous breakdown if I did actually ever work in you. Your ladies are nothing less than charming and helpful, they have helped me with every inane query I have ever had, they unsuccessfully attempt to fix your computers when PDFs won't open, bless them, and always do so with kindness, patience and wearing a smile.

It would be tragic to imagine my life without you*. It saddens me to think that many people don't think you're a sensible use of money, whereas I know you're one of the most important places in our civilised society. You allow everyone, no matter what social class, age, wealth, or any other circumstances, the opportunity to learn skills, develop ideas and access all sorts of information for free. You help people gain knowledge to change their lives and help them learn things that might even save their lives one day. You are an invaluable asset to communities and a place where people can go if they are lost or unsure of something: you help them find the answers they need!

Thank you for everything you have done to help, guide, and teach me over the years, I have really appreciated it, and continue to do so.

Lots of love,

*It is estimated that 20% of libraries in the UK are at risk of closure due to the government's spending cuts. I was relieved to hear that those mentioned above are safe, but the same can't be said for a great many other libraries in the country.

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