My public library experience

Today I read the news that libraries in my hometown of Peterborough will have their hours cut in order to make savings to the council budget. Following Ange Fitzpatrick’s lead I thought I’d write about my own public library experience.

My story begins in Werrington Library which is sadly one of those affected by the cuts in Peterborough. When I think back I can paint a pretty life-like picture of the library in my mind. We’d arrive and lock up our bikes under the overhanging brick entrance. I always thought the main entrance to the building was rather sinister, no matter what the weather it was cold and dark, but once inside there was a homely smell of tea and biscuits coming from the community centre on the left. We would turn right though into the library itself, through the metal swing gate. From there it was just a short hop and a skip up the steps to the children’s area where Captain Pugwash, Asterix and TinTin were awaiting me.

Story time with the First Lady by The U.S. Army, on Flickr

When we were small my sister and I would go to story time (Michelle Obama was not one of the readers in Werrington) and as we got older we took part in the summer reading scheme. I was a slow reader and so never managed to fill up my sheet, my sister however ate books and I’m sure my parents valued the savings they made by taking her to the library rather than a bookshop for her fix.

By my teenage years I had caught up with my sister in the reading stakes. I’d progressed from the Hardy Boys to Point Horror and from there to Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski series. As soon as I was done with one, there was another in the series to read. This is where the library really came into its own for me, there’s not enough money in the world, or space on my bookshelves for my crime fiction habit.

Now, although I’m a long way from those days in Werrington, I’m still using my local public library in the same way. I very rarely buy books any more. I prefer to borrow from the library because it’s more opportunistic; you take your chances on what will be on the shelves when you go in. Sometimes though if I’m really keen to read something I’ll place a reservation and I don’t begrudge the 85p I have to pay if it means I don’t have to go to the central branch to pick it up.

Image by  The U.S. Army. Licenced under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

2 comments

  • Paul Vincent

    Your early experience of libraries seems very similar to mine. From the moment I received my first library card, when I was 7 years old, I went through the library like a one-boy plague of locusts. I can even remember the first book I borrowed: “Ted’s Lucky Ball”. Can’t remember who it was by, or what it was about (probably a boy and his ball, which brought him luck…), but it was the “Go!” button that led in short order to devouring all the Bobby Brewster books, the Worzel Gummidge series, every Doctor Dolittle book, Arthur Ransom’s series starting with “Swallows and Amazons”, Anthony Buckeridge’s “Jennings” series, Wind In The Willows, at least one complete “children’s classics” set, and oh so many more. Then, my precocity gaining me early access to the “adults” section, I zipped through all Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, then lit upon the Science Fiction section. Soon exhausted that, then got hold of a “100 Greatest SF Novels” list and discovered the joys of ordering books through inter-library loans. I probably spent about a third of all my school holidays palely loitering in Pelsall library. Even got a head start on my 6th-form studies, after completing O-levels, by borrowing some A-level maths textbooks and reading them during that Summer.

    Now how much would that lot have cost my not-very-well-off parents? How likely would I have been to access all those books if I depended on purchased books? Absolutely no chance whatever.

    Libraries gave me my love of fiction, and books in general, and fed it generously. We need them.

  • Kathryn

    Peterborough’s my home town too, my first library was Thorney, based in the old girls school building next door to the community centre where I went to playschool. I loved that light airy building with its arched windows and doors like a church. I used my coloured cardboard tickets to read books about ice skaters while my mum borrowed historical fiction. We did sometimes go to Peterborough central library but it was on special occasions when they had activity days in the school holidays, when we’d get to make daffodils out of egg boxes. The serenity of Thorney library is probably why I’m still sat in a library today; I feel very sad that its service is declining. I’m also worried about friends and colleagues in Oxfordshire whose hours are being cut. One has been asked to train a volunteer to do her job, which she will then no longer have. She’s devastated. Another professional with more than 30 years experience has no idea whether she will have a job at the end of the year. These are real people with lives, families, bills, mortgages. They do not have gold-plated anything; just fear.

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