Let's hear it for libraries!

I have to confess that I didn’t realise that it was National Libraries Week when I popped in to my local branch on Monday to have a little scout around their children’s section. The purpose of my visit was to select a few books which I could then review on this blog - books which capture the magic of storytelling, are fun for both adult and child to read and help to inspire a love of reading and books. I found what I was looking for but decided that book reviews could wait for another day - a celebration of libraries seemed like a very good idea!

Libraries have changed so much over the years but I’ve always loved visiting them. Thinking back to my childhood the very first one I can remember was in a huge (well, it seemed huge to a five year old), red sandstone building with an imposing flight of steps that led up to a heavy wood and glass revolving door. Once inside you turned right to the adult library and left to the children’s but you still had a turnstile to negotiate before actually reaching the books. It almost seems like the buildings were designed to put people off rather than encourage them to come in! However, it certainly didn’t put me off. I loved to spend time wandering around the shelves and making my selection before taking the books to the librarian’s desk to hear that satisfying “ker-jing” as she date stamped each one.

Other libraries I visited over the years were perhaps not so grand but they all shared the same hushed atmosphere where you knew that the only voice you should use was a very quiet one indeed. Visiting libraries now feels like a very different experience.

Access to computers at home is something many of us take for granted but it’s not the case for everyone. During my visit earlier this week I overheard a boy of about 10 discussing what was obviously a homework research task on a South American country. He was animated and chatty and his enthusiasm as he shared the facts he had learned with his Mum was clear to see. Did you know Ecuador is so named because it is on the Equator? No, me neither! Would this youngster have been able to access this information at home? I’m really not sure, but I’m very glad the library was there to help him in this way.

Libraries open up a wealth of opportunities for whole communities and they’re not just about reading. There’s rhyme time for babies and toddlers, storytelling, homework help, art and craft activities, e-books, drop in cancer support sessions, knit’n’natter groups - the list goes on. Yet it’s important not to forget that libraries do indeed make books available to EVERYONE no matter what their income level - there’s no fee to join and anyone can access library space. There’s lots of evidence to show that exposure to books and reading from the earliest age helps children when they come to learn to read for themselves. Libraries play a crucial role in this by reflecting the value our society places on reading and promoting education and learning for people of all ages.

So if it’s a while since you last visited your local library why not drop by and see what’s going on? You might be surprised!

Elaine KentComment