Wednesday, 4 February 2015

My library story: a post for #NLD15

Growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money. But my sister and I had an expensive habit; books. It started when we got the taste for reading with picture books at home, but soon we exhausted the supply there, and our parents, seeing we needed our fiction fix, began to take us to the local public library where we could borrow anything we liked, for free, and that was it; we were irreversibly hooked.  Throughout our childhood years we took out our maximum quota of eight books every Saturday, and would have made our way through all of them by the next week, returning to the library to replenish our supply. Now we are both well into our twenties (myself a lot further through the decade than I would care to share!) and still reading, and we owe our love of books and stories to that magical room of children’s books which were ours for no cost.

As a teenager I wanted to do really well in my A-Levels, humanities subjects, and for that I needed to read around my subject. My school library was great but it couldn’t possibly cover the specialist subjects that my friends and I were doing for our A-Level History Personal Study, so off we went to the central library in town (Birmingham Central Library, before it was rebuilt into the fantastic new Library of Birmingham), to find all sorts of gems in the 900s there.

These are my personal stories, but then I also started working as a Saturday Library Assistant in one of my local public libraries, from the age of 16 to 18, and there I saw what the library meant to others: elderly people who did not have much social contact and really valued a smile and a chat with us, adults and children who needed internet or word processor access for job applications, homework or other information and did not have a computer at home, people who needed to know where and how to find advice on things affecting them, teenagers who needed a quiet space to do their homework and had nowhere else to go, people who were lonely or lost, people who knew they wanted to read but didn’t know where to start, and of course, more families like mine, kids with an appetite for reading.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Do you have a similar story?

Public libraries are about so much more than just books. They offer online resources (ebooks, magazines, newspapers, databases), a space to work or read, a place to get advice, to get online - think about how much is done online, and often only online now…yet last year 16% of UK households were still without internet access (Office for National Statistics, 2014) – a safe space, a place to meet others, and all sorts of other things too.

And then there are school libraries, prison libraries, corporate library services within firms and organisations, libraries in hospitals, and of course, university libraries, all offering a huge variety of important services.

This is why there is a National Libraries Day every year. This year it’s this coming Saturday (7th February), and all over the country people will be celebrating libraries and the role they play in society. You can see what’s going on on their website.

Here, we’re running a #shelfie competition – send us your selfies in the shelves via Facebook or Twitter (have fun and get creative, but remember that what you post on social media stays with you, and future employers may well “Google” you or look you up on Facebook), and we have some prizes for our favourites.

You could go and see what the public library can offer you too. Bedford Central Library is on Harpur Street, round the corner from the Corn Exchange and opposite the side entrance to the Harpur Centre.

I’ll admit I don’t use the library that much anymore. I’m lucky enough to have internet access at home, family, friends and a boyfriend for company, a space to sit quietly when I need it, a good understanding of where to go for advice and information, and disposable income to buy a Kobo ereader and ebooks – although I do borrow ebooks from the public library. However I still think about how important it is to those with different needs and situations to me, so I’ll be sure to visit and take some books out on Saturday, to do my bit in highlighting to those in charge how our society still needs libraries. Perhaps, prompted by childhood memories like mine, some of you will take some time out this Saturday to do the same. 

Office for National Statistics (2014) Internet Access – Households and Individuals 2014. Available at: (Accessed: 2 February 2015).

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