Things I like: Public Libraries (no. 1 in a series)

My use of Public libraries has passed through three distinct phases: childhood, adolescence and middle age.


As a child, Saturdays usually involved a trip to Swiss Cottage library in Camden with my sister and father. I don't remember much of those trips, except for a sense of the building's spacious, curvy, modernist design .

Later on we moved a few miles across Camden to Kentish Town. Kentish Town's library is a fraction of the size of Swiss Cottage. Our Saturday morning visits continued, now supplemented with regular trips with my new primary school.

I was a poor reader at the time of moving to Kentish Town, well behind most of my peers and classroom chums. To remedy this situation my father spent time each and every morning working slowly through children's books with me. Gradually my reading improved until, quite suddenly, something clicked and I was quickly in the grip of a voracious reading habit.

This sudden, unexpected, improvement in my reading raised the suspicion of my teacher who eventually suggested I was cheating somehow. My parents were called in, they explained the situation and won an apology from the teacher.

From that point on nothing could hold me back and I soon finished off anything worth reading in the children's library (ok, mainly Enid Blyton and The Hardy Boys, but hey, a kid's gotta start somewhere!)


At the age of 13 I requested a ticket for the adult library. I can remember vividly the day I said a farewell to the children's library. "I'll never step foot in there again" I said to myself and looked instead to the vast (to my eyes) rows of bookshelves in the adult library.

My first book was 'War of the Worlds', followed swiftly by 'Day of the Triffids. I rarely ever spent my hard earned pocket money on books, why should I? They were all there waiting for me, for free!

By about the age 16 my trips to the library grew less regular. My tastes had become more eclectic, I craved the underground, Beat poets, Situationist manifestos, Wilhem Reich and Emma Goldman, none of which Kentish Town could supply. The magnificent Compendium books in Camden Town became my home-from-home. I left the library system.

Middle age (yeah, that's me now)

Two decades later, with the birth of my son Harry, I returned to the fold. The Saturday trips, now to Ely library, began again and as Harry swaggers around the children's section I can check out the new releases.

It was like meeting up with a long lost friend. Libraries! What fantastic places...I can take book home for FREE and return it if it's not up to scratch, fantastic

A new addition in this web age are online library catalogues. I can now order just about any book I want (via the inter-library loan scheme if not held by my library) and wait patently for the happy email announcing the arrival of my book. Just how cool is that?

So there we have it. I like public libraries.


Smith Mill Creek Notes said...

Libraries are so important! If I heard correctly, in NYC during the Great Depression, they increased hours instead of cutting them.

I, too, went from the Hardy Boys to Ginsberg.

Edgar Crook said...

gah! been so self obsessed recently, didn't notice this post til now. Libraries eh, indeed, thank you for sharing this, I love Library stories, love Libraries, thank heavens I work in one.