Libraries are champions of freedom

To celebrate Libraries Week, Victoria Dilly, who manages our Love our Libraries programme, shares her memories of the library and the memories of some of the wonderful authors she works with.

Libraries Week is a really good opportunity to remind ourselves why libraries can be so special and so important in our lives. I meet so many people who have lovely memories, funny anecdotes and an all-round general soft spot for their library, whether that be their local library or their school library.

My own and lasting impression of libraries, whether as a visitor or as a librarian, are as places of freedom — freedom to choose, freedom to discover, freedom to question — freedom to borrow! In a world where very little is ever truly ‘free’, libraries are champions of freedom.

Whether it’s the chance to choose whichever book you want to read, having the time and space to read, or finding a kindred spirit in the librarian behind the desk, libraries create a sense of opportunity to discover new things.

To celebrate Libraries Week, we invited the wonderful authors we work with to share their favourite memories of libraries. These perfectly capture the magic and wonder of libraries and the role they can play in creating the readers and writers of the future. Here’s why we all love our libraries!

As long as I knew him, my dad always had two jobs. When I was a kid, he was a milkman in the morning, and in the evening he had a cleaning job in a local dentist’s surgery. He would regularly take me with him but instead of having me sit in a dark dentist’s hour after hour, he’d drop me off at Horsham library and pick me up two hours later on his way home. This was when I was nine or 10, I guess. During those evenings I ate all the books in the children’s section, all of them. I worked my way through the fiction and the non-fiction, sitting on the windowsill looking out onto the darkened street. I don’t remember anyone else ever being there, and the librarians, who were based through the big double doors in the adult section, never intruded. Being left alone with all those books was the best thing in the world. I could only take four home but while I was there I could read as many as I wanted. That library (Horsham library in the mid-1980s) taught me everything I needed to know. I am forever indebted to my parents for leaving me alone with books — with all the books.
  • A F Harrold, poet, author
When I was little, a visit to the library took place every Saturday followed by a trip into town and then a cake in a café called Shades. This happened every week, without fail. My brother, sister and I were very comfy in the library and we’d usually spend a good hour choosing books before we went off with either our mum or our dad to do the boring shopping bit. One Saturday, I was sitting in Shades with Dad, enjoying my usual hot chocolate and caramel slice, when my mum and brother walked in… without my three-year-old sister. Two hours previously we’d left her in the library which was now closed. I remember an exciting dash across town and hammering on the locked library doors. We found Julia sitting on the counter (the place where they stamped the books — exciting!) covered in stickers. The library staff said that they’d only realised she was parent-less when the library shut and that for one and a half hours she’s just sat in the wooden train reading books. I was quite jealous. For half an hour, my sister was locked inside a library and had it all to herself. And she got stickers.
  • Jenny McLachlan, author
My mother used to take me to the local library most weekends as a child. I remember it being so quiet and the librarian so strict that I was afraid to walk loudly. These days, libraries are so much more vibrant and exciting but there is still the same thrill of discovering a new adventure on the shelf. When I was six-years-old, I was so proud to win a colouring competition at my local library. My prize was a Captain Pugwash book, which I still have today. Now I read it to my own children, but I will always remember the curious feeling of taking home a book from the library that would never be returned.
  • Huw Powell, author
When people ask what made me become an author I tell them I was born in a library. Not literally, of course, but my earliest memories are of walking down the hill into Sherwood with my mum and having a feeling of real excitement as we approached the public library. I can still remember running my hand along the spines of the books as I looked for something to read. Robin Hood, the local legend, was long gone, but on those shelves I found stories that brought him and so many other exciting and fascinating characters to life. On an author visit to a school in Sherwood a few years back, I found time to visit the library and to my delight, the wood panelled rooms where my love of stories had been nurtured were exactly as I remembered them. Long may it remain!
  • Neil Arksey, author
The first library I joined when I was five-years-old was the North Branch in my home town. The librarian was Miss Nellie Hughes, who was ancient. She opened the branch as its first librarian in 1920. She was a tiny, quiet, kind woman who was always sitting right inside the library entrance at a low table that was actually meant for children to use. Her gentle smile and sparkling eyes greeted everyone who came in and out. She always had loads of library cards spread out on the table — catalogue cards and circulation cards. I never figured out why she shuffled all these cards and put them in rows. I thought she was playing solitaire or patience with them. But if you ever wanted a book, all you had to do was ask Miss Hughes. She knew every volume by memory — even if you didn’t know the title, she could figure it out from your query. She’d gasp and exclaim, “Oh yes, that’s got a red cover!” or “I know it, black binding, gold letters…” and would quickly and nimbly dash through the library and pull the right book from the open shelves or, even better, dive into the huge walk-in safe (that was never closed or locked) or climb down the steep stairs to the staff-only cellar room where there were more shelves of books. She always found the book you most wanted, even if you didn’t know you wanted when you walked into the place, whether you were the smallest child or the oldest adult, and was a real treasure.
  • Patrick Ryan, author
My library card was green and plastic. It sat in mum’s purse with car park tickets and the loose change. On Saturdays we’d go into town and I’d get to run up the wheelchair slope and hurtle through the library doors and heap up books in my arms. Whatever I wanted. Whatever I could find. Asterix and Tintin comics, old spine-cracked classics, Point Horrors and Star Wars novelisations. Doctor Who serialisations. More, more, more. I could never have enough. I was like Augustus Gloop when he sees that chocolate river! That’s what I think about, when I think about my library. Not the scuffed lino squares or the echoes or the whispers. I think of Wonka’s chocolate river. Because that’s what the library was to me. A place to dive in to and get filled up.
  • Samuel Gayton, author, playwright