Benjamin Johncock, author of The Last Pilot, writes on the practical function of a library, for the fourth of our ‘Love Your Library’ blogs.
Libraries have enduring associations. The hush, the stamps, the smell of old paper; knowledge, learning, the dewey decimal (whatever the hell that is).
Writers like to romanticise the library. I can see why. For children, for adults, libraries are airports for the imagination: ten thousand paper terminals waiting to transport your mind to any where and any when. The library can blast open the doors of your life. The library has the power to transform.
This is all very romantic.
However, there is a reality often overlooked in all this heady nostalgia and pontification, and it has little to do with books.
The library is the closest thing we have a to a universal hub for the community.
They come to read the newspaper, check Facebook, send email, learn to use a computer, look for a job, apply for a job, play games, watch movies on YouTube, talk to their families on Skype, charge their phones, keep warm, eat in the dry. The library is a place to go, to see people, to be seen; to feel you exist beyond the four walls of your house. Guess what? There’s more to life than books. I see the regulars every day, often waiting at the glass doors for it to open.
Hannah Woodhall, a Library and lnformation Assistant at the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library recently said:
“I’ve worked at the Millennium Library for fourteen years. In that time I have seen lives changed and enhanced by the services we offer. A lady came in recently who was looking for help for her husband who has dementia. She was utterly alone and so desperate for help. I sat with her and talked about what we could do. I helped a lady who was fleeing domestic violence and needed to access the Council House listings somewhere she felt safe. I’ve helped a partially-sighted man get his bus pass renewed-he nearly cried he was so grateful. I serve people who have been made redundant after many years in the same job who are utterly petrified of applying for a new job. And in light of the current refugee crisis, I’m reminded of when we enrolled Congolese families-I still see them using the library today, integrated into our community, enriching it.”
The public library is a destination, a haven, a harbour, an asylum, a sanctuary, a port in the storm. It is so much more than the sum of its books.
Benjamin Johncock was born in England in 1978. His short stories have been published by The Fiction Desk and The Junket. He is the recipient of an Arts Council England grant anda the American Literary Merit Award, and is a winner of Comma Press’s National Short Story Day competition. He also writes for the Guardian. He lives in Norwich, England, with his wife, his daughter, and his son. The Last Pilot is his first novel.
Across the country and the world, libraries are facing unprecedented threats. Lack of funding and costcutting means that in the last 12 months the UK has lost 49 libraries: almost one a week. In light of this, WCN is running a series of biogs under the title ‘Love Your Library’, a follow up to the #LibraryAdvent project. WCN has worked closely with library services on a number of projects, including Brave New Reads; an immersive reading programme which recommends brilliant books.