I have very fond memories of libraries. I loved the library at school: shelves of books and a canny librarian who could point me in the direction of the next author I’d enjoy and a book that might offer a step up in challenge. I recall being in some awe during a primary school trip to the public library in Chichester in the mid 1970s when I found a whole building devoted to reading (with not just half a shelf but a whole section devoted to sci-fi!) and such technological marvels as microfiche!
Later on I used this libraries for school work, as well as school and college libraries. At university in London I had membership cards for eight different libraries, some academic (favourite: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, with the ZSL library at Regent’s Park Zoo a close second) and some public (Favourite: Camden).
Later still, I would take my own children to libraries run by Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire County Councils, and share their delight in the magical world of books. I campaigned with others against the closure of the village library in Long Crendon, Bucks -it’s now run entirely by volunteers. Professionally I was fortunate enough to be in a position ensure my school could continue to support the development of our library in the face of worsening finances in education.
A Year of Library Loans
I suspect many people have similarly fond memories but, despite the affection in which they are often held, many libraries are having a hard time at the moment. In the face of funding cuts many local authorities have reduced library services and even closed libraries. Some schools can not afford a librarian or, in some cases, even a library.
One thing we can all do to help is to make use of our local public library (if we still have one). With that in mind, I decided last January to visit mine in Thame, Oxfordshire, at least one a month and take out a book or two. I’d fallen out of the habit of using the library, buying rather than borrowing books, and perhaps wary of racking up library fines because a busy life meant that I might not renew or return them on time.
I found that my dusted-off library card not only let me borrow books but enabled me to access my online account, search items, renew books using my phone (no fines!) and reserve and borrow ebooks and audiobooks as well as those old-fashioned paper books I love so much.
My account has also allowed me to look back over the books I borrowed in 2019 to see how well I kept to my resolution. I had read 33 books in all. This included revisiting a few old friends (such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre, The Player of Games by Iain M Banks, and Chris Mullin’s A Very British Coup), continuing to read some favourite authors (such as Val McDermid, Jo Nesbo, and Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series) and making some new discoveries – most notably Donna Leon’s detective novels set in Venice featuring Commissario Brunetti.
I was also able to finally read some books I had been meaning to for years including the Island of Dr Moreau by Jules Verne, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, and Death’s End, the final book in the Three Body Problem sci-fi trilogy by Liu Cixin. This included ‘filling in the gaps’ in the bibliographies of a few of my favourite authors such as John Le Carre (The Little Drummer Girl and The Russia House), Terry Pratchett (The Long Earth, with Stephen Baxter), and some of Ben Aaronovich’s Rivers of London series (October Man, Lies Sleeping, and Foxglove Summer) which I think now makes me up to date in the unpredictable life of Detective Constable Peter Grant.
As you can see, detective fiction and science fiction featured heavily, but I also read some science fact in the form of Franz de Waal’s excellent Are we Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, and biography with Gerald Durrell’s Encounters with Animals.
Over to you
So, if it’s been a while since you visited your local library, why not pop along? You’ll receive a warm welcome and you’ll be helping to secure their future for your whole community.
As for me, I’m very happy with how my year of library reading went. In 2020, perhaps I’ll try to extend that reading beyond the confines of crime and sci-fi, and I’ve just seen that as well as books, the library loans out micro:bits…
Reading: Rodger Caseby using Bitmoji