How libraries can be literal life-savers

As more libraries in the country are threatened with closure, Library Lovers month is an important time to celebrate and reflect on the role that these special places play in communities and people’s lives, and why more must be done to protect them.

Can a library really transform lives? There have been a number of well-known writers that have shared very personal stories about their relationship with libraries. Kerry Hudson, an author and anti-poverty campaigner has talked passionately about how her local library quite literally saved her life. More than just a place where she studied for exams, it provided a safe space from which to escape her often chaotic and abusive childhood.

Writer Sathnam Sanghera likewise talked very openly about his humble background and how his local library became the only place where he could find peace and thinking space away from his crowded home.

Libraries provided them with both physical and mental release from their difficult circumstances, if only for a little while. And it was a place that fed their imaginations, seeded their passion for books and helped them develop the writing skills that has made the successes they are today.

If you ever needed proof that libraries can give important chances for children from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds, then this is it. Libraries are the greater ‘equaliser’. Not every family can afford books, and the rising cost of living today means that this problem will only worsen. Small household budgets will rarely stretch to books when putting food on the table, keeping warm and paying basic bills must take priority.

But a library enables all to access knowledge and explore new worlds through imagination when even the cost of a bus fare to the nearest town can, for some, be completely unaffordable like a foreign holiday.

I first remember how important libraries were to me when I was a Year 7 student at secondary school. Our English teacher asked us to bring into class a specific type of book from home the next day: it was a fiction chapter book. I remember stressing about this all night because I didn’t own such a book … We didn’t have a mini-home library or a bookcase of assorted books like I have for my own children now. The only books I possessed were those that had been gifted to me and even these were mainly picture books. Instead, I brought to school with me the nearest thing I thought resembled a fiction chapter book. I was embarrassed because the whole class laughed at me as it wasn’t quite what the teacher meant.

After that, I did learn about our local library, which was conveniently located on the way home from school. Here I could access every kind of book and save myself embarrassment in the future.

And that’s the thing. There is no stigma or shame in visiting a library – people from every background and walk of life use them. Often, they are as important to communities as the local post office, church or pub. They are a meeting spot for parent and toddler groups; hubs for business people wanting to make local connections; a space for personal time and quiet thinking; a warm and welcoming bank when the house can be too cold and too

expensive to fuel. You can spend as much time as you’d like in a library without any expectation of spending a single penny.

And, in some cases, libraries can be so architecturally beautiful that to simply be within its space can elevate the mood.

Library Lovers month is a great time to celebrate all that it can come to mean for people, young and old alike. It’s more than just a repository of books. It can create hope and possibilities.

Kerrine Bryan – Author & Founder, Butterfly Books Limited