As I start this post it’s 11.59pm on World Book Day 2013. I should really be curling up, but lack of sleep earlier in the week and nerves about an event tomorrow have me restless, so writing is as ever a solace. And I knew exactly what I wanted to write about this evening.
Today, we’ve been celebrating World Book Day, along with most of the schools in the UK. The kids in the Junior Department dressed up (so many cute little Tintins, Robin Hoods and Harry Potters!) and in the MS and SS we read books, shared books, and generally got quite excited about books! Then, somewhat ironically, I couldn’t make it to my own book group due to a diary pile up. Ah, London.
For WBD, I realy got to thinking about libraries and the very special place they hold in my heart. The public libraries of this country are an absolute treasure, and without them I could say with 100% certainty I would never have made it to university, let alone be a teacher. I grew up with ambitious and hardworking parents who definitely wanted the best for me and who encouraged me in my endeavours, but when I was small money for new books just wasn’t there. We’d pick up a few here and there from charity shops and thrift stores, or hand-me-downs from families moving base, but new books rarely came into the house. I remember one that did, Disney’s Treasury of Fairy Tales, and how proud I was to keep its pages pristine, its cover buffed and shiny. I loved that book, with all the fierce passion of a little girls’ heart.
Imagine then the effect that a whole library of books had. Books. Everywhere. To touch and read and take away and share and return and renew and love. A whole room of my favourite things, of stories that would take me far away, of characters that to this day are as familiar as friends – Jo, Darryl, Elisaveta, Mallory, Elizabeth & Jessica. I remember watching Beauty and the Beast and seeing that finally in Belle there was a Disney heroine I could get on board with – a girl of books and words, a girl who would be more likely to disappear into the attic with a beloved book and a passel of apples (a la Jo March) than get distracted by dresses or boys.
Our house growing up was lovely, but often busy and noisy, and a little transient in the way that military homes can often be (we had a whole range of homes in our RAF years!). But all the libraries, whether on camp or in a village, down near my boarding school or attached to my primary school in Germany, had certain things in common – the smell, the soothing beep of returns, the muffled clearing of throats. And oh my goodness, the books.
Those books taught me how to live. How to learn. How to love. A regular Matilda, I read anything I could get my hands on – fiction (of every type and class), history, biographies, plays, poems. Those Saturdays when mum took me to the library, the libraries visited while waiting for siblings after clubs, the long summer holidays spent poring over the shelves to find new reads…they made me who I am today. They showed me another way of life; so many different ways of life. The libraries I visited as a toddler and a child and a teenager gave me a chance at a different life, the chance to learn and find my path.
And that’s why I think libraries are important. I’m so glad that there are libraries here in East London where little girls (and boys) just like I was – bright and keen and interested – can always find new books to read, new trips to take to far off lands, new futures to dream of. Without libraries my life would have been poorer, because when I was little the money wasn’t there to buy books – just as is the case in many, many families today. But in the library we are all equal – once you’ve paid that 50p the card is yours and a world of books is now yours. Even when I went to a couple of – how shall I put this? – rubbish primary schools, the library was always there at the end of the day, the glimmering light at the end of the tunnel. As it is today.
Libraries offer hope and light and comfort. I pray they can continue to do so for a very long time.
Happy World Book Day, all.