Today I went to the library with my mum.
Mum’s a big fan of the library. I think I inherited my voracious reading ability from her. She’s always got a few books on the go and just plows through them, so the library is necessary to prevent bankruptcy. I used to love going to the library as a kid, at school or with mum, borrowing as many books as I could, and also plowing through them. I think libraries are so important for kids and young people, because if you’re a reader, you just want to read everything. I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett’s book of essays, A Slip of the Keyboard, and he mentions in a few of his pieces being a young boy who had suddenly discovered the joy of reading (through The Wind in the Willows, which was also a favourite of mine) and finding a home of sorts amongst the library shelves.
Around the time I could afford to buy books for myself, though, I decided I wanted to create a library of my own. I stopped going to the library and instead would go to bookshops. It was rare that I could leave a bookshop without buying something, and I could spend hours lost in the shelves, imagining the day when my own book would show up there (It hasn’t yet. There’s still time).
I’m one of those girls who watched Beauty and the Beast and didn’t long for the handsome prince at the end, but the floor to ceiling, three storey library with ladders and spiral staircases. Ooh and a fireplace and cosy chair so you didn’t have to go anywhere else, but could just pick a book and start reading it straight away. Okay, sure, it would be nice to have someone to read with or around, but that’s not strictly necessary (and like most, I prefer the Beast to the prince anyway).
So that was one thing that drew me away from the library.
Then, uni. The uni library has a lot of books in it, yes, but uni libraries are stripped of the romance of normal libraries. They are functional repositories of information to be digested and regurgitated in essays. They are places with uncomfortable chairs and tiny desks where students who have nowhere else to go spend hours hunched over with their headphones on, looking miserable. They’re not really for fun. Yes, many of the same books are in the uni library as in the local library or the bookshop, but the covers have been pulled off and all made uniform. The shelves are close together and dark. There’s no joy or browsing serendipity in the uni library and I hated going there.
Then the internet took hold, I became adept at researching the online catalogues and rarely, if ever, set foot back in the library. You could find pretty much all you’d need online. I was a pretty lazy student; if I couldn’t find the academic source online I didn’t bother with it (I’m not talking wikipedia, etc, they were proper academic journals, etc, but still). By the time I went to Bible college, I only physically went into the library at Moore about three times and it intimidated and freaked me out.
So that was another thing keeping me away from the library, even the fun ones.
But then books got so darn expensive. I think that’s why my reading rate slowed down. Instead of doing the smart thing and going to the place where you could borrow them for free, I kept thinking I needed to buy all my books. Even when I started going to the Customs House Library with the Hive Mind to write (and that’s a lovely library) I didn’t think about going to my own local.
These days I read mostly on my kindle, or via audiobooks. It does aggrieve me that I can’t physically hold or look at all the books I’ve read in the last few years. There is something lost in translation, it’s true; when I read a physical book it is satisfying in a way that the e-book isn’t. Being able to flip around and just the spatial awareness of the page when you’re reading a physical book is something the e-book can’t match. It’s that serendipity thing again; I might flip through a book and stumble across a passage I was looking for, or am interested in. When paging through an e-book you kind of need to know what you’re looking for, and because the layouts are fluid (the text can be resized based on your viewing preferences), often the sentence you’re looking for isn’t in the same place on the page as it was the first time you read it.
Anyway. Today mum had to return books to the local branch library, so I went with her.
Just walking through the door into the small, light, open space filled with books and quiet people, I felt a surge of memory from my childhood. Even just browsing the spines and the displayed books I immediately found things I wanted to borrow. Cookbooks! Craft books! Graphic novels! You don’t have to spend a zillion dollars on these things! My library card even allows me to read magazines on my ipad for free – why the heck would I buy them? There were kids sitting on the floor, reading colourful picture books, and people murmuring quietly over a large common table. The librarian was smiling and helpful. Mum said, “you should join,” with knowing smile.
How could I have forgotten about the library?