5 Feb 2011

"It was a room of a hundred thousand windows, each one looking out onto a different world."

I could quite easily rob a library. It's one of the only places I would happily rob. Whenever I go the urge to sweep every book in the YA section into the hood of my hoodie or under my hoodie preggo style is unbearable. I CONFESS. I am a book lover, a bookworm if you will. I can read a whole book in a day and forget to breathe. Skip meals and construct a soundproof bubble around me so when my mum tells me to tidy my room for the hundredth time, her voice simply bounces off me. Useful. 

"You can start reading pink books now." BAM. I made it. Straight to the top. The top row of books in the school library were mine all mine. You see the pink books were the clever books, the books with the dramatic plots, small words, no pictures, LOTS of pages. Clearly these books were only readable by those who were strong mentally and could take the tragedies and heart racing dramas. I was prepared. I was excited. JACQUELINE WILSON WAS MINE. Corgi Yearling? KMT. Drop that Yearling and place a Corgi single in my hands. Eat your heart out Biff Chip and Kipper. The Very Hungry Caterpillar? Eat cake. Louise is ready for the big ones.

The school library was good, for school. But it didn't beat our Shenfield Library, and was a speck of dust on the shoulder of Brentwood Library, and we knew it. When the librarian from Shenfield came to our school to tell us about the new books we knew our library was NOTHING compared to this. The Summer Reading Challenge was EVERYTHING. The ultimate competition (excluding the easter egg challenge obv) at school. Who would read the 6 books and get the medal? 1 book a week? Bring it. Commence the staring down at classmates you see at the library, getting their record stamped. 

Mum took us to the library about once a month when we were little. We'd be allowed 6 books out every time but when she caught me amongst the beanbags with a pile of 9 and already half way through one while flicking through the bottom shelf between pages, she gave in and helped me carry them to the desk. Occasionally I'd drop hints and borrow 7 books about cats. Never worked. Book Week at school was the best because we got a book voucher. I could BUY a book. The only other times I could actually own a book was my birthday and Christmas, or when we went on holiday. Mum would pack my bag and hide books and magazines for the plane. Amazing. The trouble with buying books was that I could never choose just one, and I couldn't buy more than one because it was too expensive and my book voucher couldn't take it. Back to the library.

Around 400 libraries are due to be closed by the government. That's MILLIONS of books gone. What are they going to do with them? Burn them? Turn them back into trees? When reading through tweets about the #savelibraries campaign this morning I stumbled across author Joanne Harris who was doing storytime and has let me use her tweets in this post. She told the story perfectly... 

Once upon a time, in a village like yours, there lived an old librarian. (A librarian is a person who studies hard to do a professional job and is paid relatively little. Bit like an independent bookshop owner.) Lots of people loved the library. (A library is a place full of books that anyone can borrow, for FREE. You just read them, and then bring them back. And every time you borrow a book, the author gets paid a tiny bit of money. This helps authors keep writing). 

Anyway, kids loved the library because the old librarian (who liked stories) used to have storytime every day. Students loved the library because they could do their homework there - and meet girls, or boys, who liked to read (totally the best kind). Old people loved the library, because they could meet their friends there, borrow books that had gone out of print, and have a cup of tea. Some old people lked to borrow books that their children deemed UNSUITABLE for them, like LOLITA. It was allowed. No-one stopped them. Readers' groups loved the library, because authors used to do readings there and answer questions about their books. And the librarian loved the library, because it was his life's work. It looked like a room full of old books, but actually it was a room of a hundred thousand windows, each one looking out onto a different world. 

But there was one person who didn't like the library. This was the Mayor of the village. It wasn't that the Mayor didn't like books. I fact, he owned several. He also had a library of his own - well, not quite a library. These were all the Mayor's own books, bought in bulk by his interior designer. None of them were ever lent out, and of course, there was no librarian. And the Mayor said: "The library is old. The roof leaks. It's outdated. There are books in there that haven't been taken out for years." And he said: "We have to make CUTS. We have no choice. It's either the library or the school, or the old peoples' home. Or the poor." And because the Mayor was Mayor (as well as being very rich), the villagers believed him, and really thought they had no choice. Some people suggested that the cuts might not be necessary as the Mayor seemed to think. Some even suggested taking the BANKS instead of the poor, but they were quickly dismissed as radicals. Some well-meaning people said that cutting POVERTY was surely the priority...but poverty has more than one face, thought the old librarian. Some things can't be bought with money. And so he protested - timidly. He was a very polite old librarian. But what can one old librarian do? "We can't fight PROGRESS," said the Mayor. "We have to TIGHTEN OUR BELTS." (In fact the Mayor's belt was already tight, but this was simply because he was very, very fat.) Things looked hopeless for the old librarian, and for all those in the village who couldn't afford a private library like the Mayor's. And that's enough storytime for now. Will the old librarian win? Or will it be the fat Mayor? Cont'd after lunch. Bring cake. x

Today is Save Libraries day. Libraries up and down the country are holding protests, having author talks and mass readings. The acts themselves may not save the libraries but the unison of people showing how much libraries are loved will definitely prove that they are SO needed. Now hush up, Scarlett is lost in America and I need to put myself in her shoes for the next few hours, amongst the beanbags... #savelibraries


  1. I don't like books. They are heavy, fat, uncomfortable, painful to keep in good condition, take too much space and kill too many trees. A free Kindle library would be perfect.

  2. :O No way. I love having books. There are two things I love about books (other than actually reading them)and they are looking at them after a series of years and seeing you have kept them in good condition
    And the smell. Books smell brilliant :)

  3. I didn't know Feb 5 was Save Libraries Day in the UK. Sad libraries should be under threat in the land of Shakespeare and Dickens and so many other literary greats. Thanks Louise for letting me know. Reminds me of my failing reading habit. Must pull myself up. And thanks Joanne Harris for the storytime.