I love libraries. Anyone who has known me for more than a few minutes, or has read a fair smattering of my stories, will have picked up on that already. Just in case you haven’t noticed, though, I LOVE libraries.
I grew up just down the road from my local library. No exaggeration: I lived on a tiny cul-de-sac off a larger (but still quite small) road that ended in a tiny carpark where the local doctor’s surgery and library were found. You walked past them to get to the main road through my village, and the bus stop was right there behind the library. If I walked anywhere, I had to walk past the library.
My library was maybe a two minute walk from my house. My mum started letting me walk there on my own from the age of six, because the librarians all knew me and there were no roads to cross to reach it. I perfected the art of walking while reading, too impatient to start my new books to wait until I got home. I spent afternoons there just reading. During summer reading clubs, I’d be there every day (sometimes more than that–I still remember being told that I couldn’t finish the summer challenge on day two, please for the love of god read a non-challenge book) and it was like a second home to me through my childhood. So in a lot of ways, I grew up in my local library.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect. My little library had a tiny selection, which I regularly read through. The librarians were always gleeful when they could tell me there had been a stock rotation and some new stuff was in that I’d like. Ordering a book from the library system was free for under 16s, but very pricey as soon as you hit that dreaded age. The biggest perk of my teen Saturday job at the library was free book orders.
My mum still uses that library system when she’s doing her six months in England. The hours of the local library have been cut and there is no convenient book drop, so you have to get there when it’s open to return books. The ebook system is clunky and almost unusable. Reserving books is more expensive than ever, so no one uses it. The big library in town is better for range and hours, but it moved into a new building a few years ago and somehow they managed to put fewer books into a larger building and make it completely soulless.
I still love libraries, though. In my opinion, they’re vital to a community. Done right, they’re amazing. My tiny local library was done right. The big library in town was…uh…not.
My local library system here in Canada is fantastic. Honestly brilliant. Putting books on hold is free and Mum reports their ebook system is almost seamless. I have a Kindle, which Overdrive doesn’t support here, but I’m sure she’s right. If I want to read on my iPad, Overdrive is a breeze, and the audiobook system is ridiculously easy to use on my iPod. The range of physical books is amazing–the librarian in charge of the graphic novel acquisitions is particularly good–and there is a book drop available at every branch for out of hours returns. There’s real support for the system throughout the community, because of all the programs they run.
Last year, the central library moved into a new purpose-built building. Some people mocked the city for spending so much money on building a new library. Why would people use it in this modern age? Libraries are going the way of the dodo!
It opened to huge crowds. Commentators were sure it would die down after the novelty wore off, and some were concerned the rest of the system would suffer decreased usage due to the shiny new central library.
Joke’s on them! The traffic through the new library didn’t drop off. It’s been more than double the original estimates, and usage of the rest of the system has increased, too. Unlike the big library in my old town, this new building is beautiful, houses more books than ever, and it has soul: it’s a community hub. There are meeting rooms, classes for all ages, two coffee shops, events…it’s more than just a place to borrow the latest NYT bestseller. It’s what a great library can be, and it’s the kind of place that renews my faith in what libraries and should be.
A good library is a place where we can grow up and never stop growing.