For the love of libraries

I grew up loving the library. I think Horfield library was the first place I ever visited by myself that wasn’t the home of a relative. I haunted the shelves there (and Filton, Gloucester Rd [RIP] and eventually Bristol’s Central libraries). An unreasonable portion of my paper round money was spent on library fines. Whether it was S.E. Hinton, Robert A. Heinlein, Iain M. Banks, Robert B. Parker, Ursula K. Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke (or authors without prominent middle initials like Stephen King, Richard Stark, Raymond Chandler, Dean Koontz, Mario Puzo, Mark Timlin and so many more) or books on goalkeeping, graffiti, New York, scriptwriting or Pop Art I was never without a book and that book was almost certainly from a library (most of my money went on comics back then!).

This was the age before the internet in your pocket and it shaped me. Libraries were my safe space. When I got overwhelmed or anxious I would camp out in the library – and that continued for years. I’ve found myself in libraries in New York, Sydney and Vancouver when I’ve gotten over-stimulated or stressed (or on one occasion just very lost.)

I firmly believe that public libraries are vital social infrastructure and the scandal of the lack of investment in the last decade or two (I know there are so many scandals, so little investment, so much abandoned or neglected infrastructure) is a massive contributing factor to the permacrisis we are mired in.

Once I realised I lacked the talent (and the connections to make up for the lack of talent) to make it as a writer I briefly flirted with becoming a teacher (but…well…kids are hell) but decided to pursue a career in librarianship. I spent a couple of years working in the library at the University of the West of England, got accepted to an MSc in Library Science, and was applying for other roles as I wanted to transition into the public library space where my real passion resided.

Then I got distracted by looking into this new WWW thing and next thing you know I am 51 and don’t really know how to describe what I do for a living ~ and I still love libraries.

Anyway this is a recipe blog level of preamble to say I was inspired by this amazing ‘long-read’ in the Guardian about libraries in Reading which left me complaining of allergies making my eyes water on the train. It is a brilliant piece about some real unsung (until this article!) heroes of British society…and also this news that New Yorkers successfully campaigned to reverse the cuts to the New York Public Library system – something I wish we’d managed in Bristol and South Gloucestershire where library services are hanging by a thread.

I was inspired to such an extent that I have applied to be a library volunteer – putting some of my new four day week, free Fridays to use other than just going to the cinema. I was going to try and volunteer at a South Glos library near me as it is closest but the application was longer than my last job app in the Civil Service(!) so I’ve contacted the Friends of Horfield Library and will keep my fingers crossed.
As an aside a couple of years ago I did have some conversations about working for the British Library as a product manager on the Library Single Digital Presence/LibraryOn (which is a little controversial) and it is a big regret that I didn’t (though I did InterRail first class around Europe instead so…). Hopefully that isn’t the last opportunity I get to get back to my roots…and do something I can explain down the pub if asked.

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