Libraries: Use Them Before We Lose Them

Some of my earliest childhood memories involve weekly visits to the library with my mum. I dreamed of being like Matilda in the movie scene when she leaves her library pulling a small trailer full of books. “You can only take out eight books at once?” I’d asked the librarian in surprise, convinced I’d run out in the next day or two. When aged eight and asked what I disliked the most for my school yearbook page, I answered, “Running out of books from the library.” I suppose it’s safe to say I was obsessed with the library from an early age, and I’m entirely convinced this contributed to a lifelong love of books.

My first library was Portlethen Library in Aberdeenshire. It was small and cosy and it pleased me that the librarians knew me by name – my earliest experience of a sense of community. The first books I remember choosing to take out were the Sandy Lane Stables book series by Susannah Leigh and Michelle Bates. These books were pony stories for children aged around nine and were perfect for me during a phase of horse riding and begging for my own pony. Fortunately for my parents at the time, I was perfectly satisfied with a few riding lessons and reading about other little girls owning ponies. The librarian would always tell me as soon as a new book in this series became available, and I remember loving how on-demand reading had become. I checked out, read and loved every single one. 

As I grew into secondary school age my library visits became less frequent but they never ceased altogether. I’d still venture in to exchange my Mary-Kate and Ashley books for more in the series, and I began to explore “young adult” fiction as what felt like a great stopgap between pony stories and the “adult” fiction I knew I wasn’t quite ready for. Even years later, the librarians still knew me by name and could provide recommendations for me. Despite my interests changing, the librarians always had an instinct for what I’d enjoy, and nine times out of ten, they were right. 

Librarians played a vital role in my engagement with reading at an early age, and do so for many children and adults who use the library. They steered me towards books they knew I’d enjoy, as well as books I wouldn’t have necessarily picked up without being coaxed into it. I always loved reading but they encouraged me to read outside of my comfort zone and were always interested to hear how I’d gotten on with my eight books every week. 

By the time I’d left school and started university, going to the library changed from a source of enjoyment to a place to study (not that the two are mutually exclusive). A university library is worlds away from a community library, however its uses are not too different. Librarians are still hugely involved and will always help you find whatever title you need, on whichever format. Libraries run workshops on interview skills, writing CVs, and how to get the most from your study sessions, though with these often being very under-attended, it would not be surprising if soon they begin to dwindle.

Community libraries and librarians do so much more than many of us realise, and act as help points for various situations and people. Even with staff cuts and resource shortages, they still run book clubs, coffee mornings, activities and readings for children, alongside providing guidance on how best to navigate your way through the library. Libraries are constantly adapting and doing great things – take the partnership of Macmillan with Glasgow Libraries as an example. Macmillan representatives hold drop-in sessions at libraries in Glasgow to offer emotional support and advice to anyone affected by cancer. This is a great example of libraries giving so much back to their community, often receiving little funding in return. 

Just last year the Scottish government announced a new scheme in which funding will be provided for projects to overall improve public libraries and their community outreach across Scotland. Government support into this facility is vital, and as a regular library attendee from an early age, it breaks my heart to think children might grow up without libraries. Granted, the library isn’t part of everyone’s life, and it could be argued that it isn’t for everyone, but from my own experience the sense of community and belonging can only enrich a person’s life.

I’ll stop rambling on about my own childhood experiences with reading. The short of it is this: please take some time to explore your local library. One of the easiest things we can do to save them is to keep using them. They’re free in Scotland and not only are they a great resource for books, but they offer so much more in facilities and resources. If you’re lucky enough, they can be in beautiful buildings too. One of the most impressive I’ve seen is the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. Look at it! 

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Image: Wikimedia Commons

About the author: Amy Merson is a graduate of French and Spanish translation and is currently studying a Masters in Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University. She is the Social Media Manager for the Napier Big Read initiative and has been a volunteer translator for INSP – the International Network of Street Papers. Amy is interested in how she can use her translation skills within the publishing industry.