Friday, 3 December 2010
Libraries: nostalgia may soon not be what it used to be: Gillian Philip
Better and more dedicated bloggers have blogged about the crisis facing our libraries, including Lucy Coats, Keren David and Candy Gourlay. Please read their posts from yesterday, because I can't put it better than they can.
I can, though, tell you what my local library meant to me as a child, because I'll never forget standing at my bedroom window one night, with my parents and my brother, watching the glow light up the sky as it burned to the ground. I remember being heartbroken, because it was the place I loved to be: the place that brought me Paddington Bear and the Famous Five and so many other worlds of wild excitement.
All I could think of that night, and the next day as we went to look at the ruins, was all those worlds, all those words, all those books going up in smoke. At eight I could think of no greater tragedy. I fantasised that the local press would interview me, as the library's most fanatical client. I even practised what I'd say.
I'd discovered Snoggle in that library, an odd little egg-shaped alien created by JB Priestley. He was as alone and far from home as ET, and even more heart-tugging. Obsessed, I'd taken the book with me into the garden, then left it lying there to be rained on. I had only recently returned it, terrified and guilty, to the librarian (who was very kind and forgiving, and who didn't have me arrested as I assumed she would). That night I remember wishing I'd kept it. More than thirty years later I had to track down a copy for my own kids, but I'm still afraid to read it, afraid to shatter the memory of one of the best-loved books of my childhood.
They rebuilt Wishaw Library: that's it in the photo above. It will have changed with the times, adapted, modernised. It must offer so much more now than it used to. I'd love to visit some time (hint hint). My nostalgic memories of the old library won't be any stronger than the memories the new one is creating right now for its thousands of visitors.
But looking for images of the beautiful old library, or even of the fire that destroyed it, I can't find any. Not one. It's as if that library never existed. Maybe I dreamed it.
Horrible, horrible thought. Let's not let it happen to all the others.