As someone who grew up with a love of reading in the pre-internet age (yes, really) – before the invention of e-books and digital, well, anything really, the local library was the holy grail of book lovers everywhere. Period. I even remember the library van – that clumsy looking box-shaped old van which had seen better days but which was stuffed with tomes of all shapes and sizes. I devoured my library books from the town where I lived, but I also played away when I could, taking great delight to hop on board the big library van when it rolled into the village where my granny lived.
Yes, it was to convenience the elderly, who perhaps couldn’t always make the journey into the nearest town to satisfy their craving for stories, but us kids could certainly join in the party. It also gave the already exciting library visit an even more thrilling edge. What wonderful stories would the library van bring this week? Would they find out you were secretly borrowing books from your local town library, the library in the seaside town where you holidayed every summer and the library van?! Which was actually, technically, for people like your dear old granny to use! And what if that big old van accidentally trundled off with you in it?! It was a little Tardis-like inside and one very easily forgot about any sort of time dimension once on board… The vans spent only a certain amount of time in each town or village, so the added thrill was trying to return your books, find new ones and hop off again before they spirited you away.
Although – a life on the library van? There are worse ways to end up I’d say!
Alas, I know not the fate of library vans and whilst I’d love to think they still trundle faithfully around the country giving elderly people and little kids bookish delight every week, I’m pretty sure the digital age has put paid to that (correct me if I’m wrong though).
I now live in a digital world and am of a generation which was probably the last to be able to say – I grew up without mobile phones, the internet etc etc. Don’t get me wrong – the digital age is great. I use it every day, although I’m yet to read an e-book or buy a Kindle-type device. I do now have a proper smart phone though, so progress.
Whether you’ve grown up reading online books and articles, or are an older convert to the digital word, I do hope that there are some of you who recall with fondness your favourite library, and encourage the kids you know to seek them out. I recently saw a rather depressing (for me anyway!) photo of a completely digitised library online – that is, one with two rows of computers and NO BOOKS. A small part of me shrivelled up and died as I realised this could well be the fate of libraries not too far into the future. Perhaps not – I know many old diehards like me still enjoy the physically printed book and use both digital and hard copy interchangeably. Will future generations? I don’t know.
All I know is that I need to visit my local library more and help give them a reason to continue. I prefer to buy my books these days – mostly from second-hand bookshops – and I don’t quite know when this obsession to have to own every novel I read quite took hold. I read so many books as a child which I happily gave back to my libraries, although I do wish some of them I could have kept and I’m sure I’ve forgotten so many of the titles I enjoyed.
I think perhaps I just like to look at them on my bookcases as to me, they’re homely; they’re a reminder of all the adventures I’ve taken; all the places I’ve visited; the characters I’ve met – liked, disliked, loved and loathed. They have beautiful covers (I like this!); they’re dog-eared/pristine/well-worn. They remind me of where I was when I read them; who I was with; what I was like then.
Libraries were a big part of my youth and I whiled many a summer’s day away with a stack of library books beside me. I progressed from the standard four library cards, to seven (delight!) and then, when computers took off – to the plastic swipe card. I still have some of my old yellowy-brown paper library cards, which the librarian would use to hold the little white slips of paper from the books I’d chosen, until I returned them and she’d fill them with more little white slips.
Libraries I loved and I always seek them out where possible when I go away. While they’re still here in traditional form I’d say – take yourself off and get lost in a library…