Okay, so I know there are easily more than 10 reasons why we should all love libraries. But in the interest of writing a blog rather than an essay, or indeed a book, about the Libraryâ€™s recent For the Love of Libraries event, Iâ€™m picking 10 top takeaways to remind us why libraries truly are the best places on earth.
On Sunday 10 March authors Philip Pullman, Salley Vickers and Jacqueline Wilson along with CEO of The Reading Agency, Sue Wilkinson, took to the British Library stage to discuss the importance of libraries, their experience of libraries as children into adulthood, and how these experiences have made their way onto the pages of their bestselling novels.
Of all the wonderful conversation, one point shocked me the most: over 40% of the UKâ€™s population will never use a public library. â€˜How is this possible?â€™ I thought. As someone who was brought up going to my local library with my parents or school on an almost weekly basis, having a desk with my name on it (well, pretty much) at Nottinghamâ€™s Hallward Library during my studies, and now being lucky enough to work at the British Library every day, this fact hit me with a great sadness.
So without further ado, hereâ€™s just a selection from the myriad reasons from the event on why everyone should use (and love) libraries:
1. Libraries are free
â€˜Go to a library, get a card, itâ€™s FREE!â€™ â€“ Jacqueline Wilson
Need I say anymore? The journeys you can go on with a library card are endless and unforgettable and they cost you nothing. As well as being able to borrow books, audio books and DVDs at no cost, public libraries also provide free author events, book clubs, homework help sessions and computer classes. Hereâ€™s a pearl of wisdom which says it all from author Matt Haig:
2. Libraries can come to you
â€˜We must have libraries where people are.â€™ â€“ Philip Pullman
Mobile-library champion, Philip Pullman sung the praises of the traditional books-on-wheels offerings that frequented smaller neighbourhoods in times past, but which are now sadly dwindling due to lack of funding. Pullman spoke of how important it is to keep mobile libraries and pop-ups alive so that absolutely anyone, from parents with babies and young children to the elderly who canâ€™t travel into towns and cities with ease, can still experience these â€˜treasure houses for our cultureâ€™ (Liz Jolly, Chief Librarian, British Library).
3. Libraries are open to everyone
In Salley Vickersâ€™ The Librarian â€“ a story inspired by Salleyâ€™s own experiences as a young reader, her childrenâ€™s librarian in particular â€“ the library of fictional town East Mole is a hubbub of activity for anyone and everyone. Its doors are open to all â€“ from a child struggling with her 11+ to members of the WI. Similarly in Jacqueline Wilsonâ€™s The Illustrated Mum, dyslexia-sufferer Dolphin Westwood sits side-by-side with Oliver, a boy bright beyond his years, and they enjoy Where The Wild Things Are together in their school library. Libraries are there for everyone and have something for everyone.
In an age were diversity and difference is embraced more than ever, where better to find diversity that in a library?
4. In libraries, youâ€™re the boss
â€˜Itâ€™s lovely when you can choose the books for yourself.â€™ â€“ Philip Pullman
Forget reading lists and being told what books you need to work your way through or study. In a library, you get to choose and that sense of choice and empowerment, especially for children, is something Pullman, Vickers and Wilson all urged: â€˜A love of books comes from the reading, trying, loving and discarding!â€™ said Jacqueline. Plus you have the right to be nosey â€“ did you know the most popular shelf in a library is the one housing the â€˜just returnedâ€™ books? â€˜A treasure chest of serendipityâ€™ (Pullman) waiting to be explored. And thereâ€™s no right or wrong way to do it.
5. Thereâ€™s more to libraries than books alone
As well as the aforementioned services offered by local and national libraries, the eventâ€™s panel were huge advocates of the power of storytelling and audiobooks. You donâ€™t need to be an avid reader to fall in love with reading â€“ go along to a story time session at your library or borrow an audiobook. The power and joy of having a story read to you is like no other â€“ and the excitement it drums up doesnâ€™t fizzle out when you leave the realms of childhood. I have to say that this event reminded me that thereâ€™s really nothing like hearing an author read from the pages of their own book.
6. We wouldnâ€™t have some of our favourite authors without libraries
â€˜Among the many gifts Iâ€™ve gained from libraries is the writing of The Librarian.â€™ â€“ Salley Vickers
Itâ€™s likely that Pullman, Vickers and Wilson wouldnâ€™t be the writers they are today without the libraries they went to growing up, studying in and used as a springboard from which to embark on their careers as (now bestselling) authors. Each of the eventsâ€™ authors recalled in great detail their earliest memories of libraries â€“ the people they met within them and the books that libraries led them to.
7. In fact, we wouldnâ€™t have some of our favourite books and characters without libraries
Pullman, Vickers and Wilson each read passages from their books set in libraries but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Where would Matilda, Madam Pince and Rupert Giles (youâ€™re welcome, Buffy fans) be without libraries? Think of all the lifelong friends youâ€™ve met in a library between the pages of your now favourite books. Both Pullman and Vickers told us of their respective but equally vivid first meetings with the Moomins while Wilson remembered the blossoming of her friendships with Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf at Kingston-Upon-Thamesâ€™s local library.
8. Libraries are good for the mind and soul
Matt Haig (our friend from reason number one) talks of the importance of libraries for the mind, body and soul in Notes on a Nervous Planet and ex-therapist Salley Vickers spoke of points in a similar vein. Libraries are a space to switch off from the instant, fast-paced, demanding strains of 21st-century life. Vickers highlighted the value of libraries and the role they play in helping and alleviating mental health issues. In a moving moment, Salley told us â€˜My life was saved by The Owl Serviceâ€™ when she was (unknowingly) suffering from a breakdown during her intense studies as a young adult
9. Libraries are a treat for the senses
â€˜I enjoyed the silence, the smell, the lightâ€¦I would lose myself and it was absolute bliss.â€™ â€“ Jacqueline Wilson.
Hands up who loves the smell of books? Me too. New ones. Old ones. I love them all. As well as the visual feast of rows upon rows of books of all shapes and sizes that greets oneâ€™s eyes when entering a library, as Jacqueline so vividly recalled, the whole visceral experience of the library for each of the senses is one not easily forgotten. It was this, along with the books Jacqueline encountered as a child, that affirmed to her that the â€˜library is a place of refuge and a place of inspirationâ€™.
10. Donâ€™t just take our word for it
Not that more reasons are needed, but hereâ€™s what youâ€™ve shared with us on social media about your love of libraries.
I shall leave you with these, and with some final and always-eloquent words from Jacqueline Wilson: â€˜Up the libraries!â€™ (Cue raucous cheer from audience/from you reading this at home/at work/in a library).
For the Love of Libraries was brought to the British Library in partnership with The Reading Agency. Take a look at our Whatâ€™s On pages to see this seasonâ€™s events.
Blog by Rachael, member of the British Libraryâ€™s Content Team and a lifelong Jacqueline Wilson fan (in case that second bit wasn't obvious already).