Our public library is the hub of our small but growing town, and it so much more than a place to borrow books.
Students from the nearby primary school use it daily. Residents awaiting internet connection to their new homes use the free internet to pay bills, check email and surf the net. Daily and weekly periodicals are popular with many visitors, particular older residents who walk into town, read the paper or a magazine, then walk home. Brochures list the activities planned over the Christmas holidays, which will provide some welcome relief for parents with a houseful of over-sugared children.
After school, older primary school kids take over the computers, playing online games when they've probably told their parents they'll be studying. Others are playing the video games set up in the back corner.
The library is bright, light-filled and inviting. The librarians know all the regulars and are happy to chat. That's how they know I'm not some weirdo who comes in and hangs around the children's section for undesirable purposes.
As I sit here typing, preppies are playing snakes and ladders and oversized floor chess, reading not-so-quietly on soft floor cushions, and trawling the shelves for old favourites and new discoveries. They confidently use the electronic checkout system. Occasionally they find remnants of the old stamp and card system in a book, and look like they've seen a dinosaur.
A bin full of colourful paper scraps and a board with song lyrics signal that this morning's storytime was packed, and pencils, stickers and cardboard await anyone who wants to make a Christmas decoration.
Looking back at my local library when I was a kid, so much has changed. Regardless of the technology, the purpose of the library is different. My childhood library had rows of books stacked on shelves, with only the spines visible in the dim light. The building was old stone, open and wide, yet small and claustrophobic.
The Librarian was the stereotype - an older woman (although she may have been in her 20s - everyone seems old when you're 8) with pulled-back hair and thick-rimmed glasses. Whether she modelled herself on movie librarians or they on her I'll never know. To her, children were a problem. No child could be unsupervised near the books because they might get them out of order, or worse still, make noise.
Neither the library nor the Librarian was welcoming. She took great delight in telling me I wouldn't understand what I was borrowing as it was 'far above my level', and when I returned the book in two days assumed she had been right, and not that I'd actually finished the book.
Once I was three days late returning a book because I'd had tonsillitis. The Librarian yelled and told me off, and I was in tears. The scene in the New York Library in the movie Ghostbusters where the ghost librarian becomes a frightening, screaming ghoul always gives me flashbacks.
I grew up loving books in spite of the Librarian, not because of her, and primarily due to the support of school librarians, who were much more child-friendly. But I didn't set foot in a public library for almost 15 years.
The library in my current town has been open for about two years, and I really don't know how the town survived without it. The library has the town's only free internet, is a social and meeting point for the community, a quiet place to study, a video arcade, and, most importantly, staffed by friendly, knowledgeable and supportive librarians who play a major role in igniting and fanning a love of reading in each new storytime, school or bookclub group that walks through the automatic doors.
Comments: (copied from original platform)
Chris Reeve 10 December 2013 at 10:49
It's amazing the positive effect that a great library with excellent staff can have on a community.
Alex Fairhill 10 December 2013 at 10:51
Thanks for your comment, Chris. It's very true - especially in smaller towns.