From Booking Through Thursday:
What is your earliest memory of a library? Who took you? Do you have you any funny/odd memories of the library?
My mother used to take me to the library. I remember it being a very long walk, across the iron bridges that crossed the railway, down an endless leafy street, through a park and past the milk depot. A really, really long walk for a child but one that planted a desire for books within me (like a thirsty man crawling across a desert towards an oasis, I knew that there was something worthwhile at the end of my trek).
I was always deposited in the children’s library as my mother disappeared into the main section. Left to my own devices, I would usually drift towards the work of Spike Milligan and Dr Seuss. I went for humour in those days and these were my favourites. My mother would, on returning to collect me, urge me to borrow the Just William books that she’s enjoyed in her childhood. I sometimes did, and enjoyed them too. My only other earliest memories are factual books, the inevitable dinosaurs and astronomy. I remember being particularly fond of one giant textbook entitled What Makes it Go.
Taught exemplary library manners, I would present my borrowing selection to the librarian (four at any one time I recall) all neatly opened at the correct page and ready for stamping. Other library etiquette, such as keeping quiet at all times, appears to have come to me instinctively. This seemed to put me in good stead as, ten years or so later, I applied for and was accepted as a Saturday assistant in the same library. I didn’t work in the children’s library, and was instead left to deal with the pensioners and their hardback mysteries, and the Dads of schoolmates who would sometimes recognise me. It was a pretty laid back job, although I always fell down on one thing. People returning their books late were subject to fines but I always felt awkward making them pay. People penalised to savouring their books just a little bit too long? It didn’t seem fair.
These days I’m a slave to Amazon. I visit a library only rarely and I sometimes feel a pang of guilt; I should browse and I should borrow. Although I suspect I would over-borrow, take too long to read and end up being fined. I did introduce my daughter to the library in her early years and admit being put off by the shelves of DVDs that have the habit of enticing children away from books. And because of this we now tend to treat our local Waterstones as library-ish. You can’t borrow, but you sure can spend a long time hiding in a corner and reading.