Thursday, 7 June 2018

Reading - a romance, by Dawn Finch

Recently I was on one of my usual hunts for a particular book and something occurred to me. I’m a librarian, and searching for books is kind of what I do. I’ve been doing it a long time, over thirty years in fact and so I certainly don’t need any advice on how to do it. I know all the quick ways, the easy ways, the cheap ways, but for me that’s not enough and I spend ages looking for the right place to source the books I want.
Let me explain.

I am a book lover. Not just a reader of books, a lover of books. I fell in love with them at a very young age and recently I’ve been thinking about how that happened. It’s my longest love affair so it’s worth looking at to see how that happened. I think I can trace this back to the very first books that I was given as presents – and that’s a key element, they were given to me by people who I loved deeply. The books then became a treasured memory of them. That was definitely part of it, but there’s more.

I grew up in a house full of books, they were everywhere and so I did see them as a commonplace part of my life. I think that familiarity does make a child more at ease with books, and children who have access to books at home do become better readers, but that’s still not what made me fall in love with them.

What really kicked off my romance with books was the library, and the bookshop. These two places were where I discovered my own kind of books. These were not the books chosen by my parents, or given as gifts, these were the books that I met all by myself. These books charmed me, and lured me in, and romanced me. These were the books that I really fell in love with, and the places where they lived became so important to me that even today I still look for the romance when I buy (or borrow) a book. 

My local library in Aberdeenshire
When I was a kid, all I really needed was quantity - more and more and more of all the new and exciting books. I loved WH Smiths and hopped on the bus through my run-down estate to the high street and sat on the shop floor with piles of books until I found the right one. Now I prefer something more elegant, and stylish. I'm a bookshop snob. This is privilege. This is a choice I am lucky enough to be able to make.

I love the fact that my local library is beautiful, and quiet, and calm, and that is important to me because when I first start to read a book I need to be in the right frame of mind to overcome my shyness and begin to fall in love. I have a visual impairment that makes my eyes flick away from the page at the slightest distraction, and that can make it hard to stay focussed on the page. I’m also fickle, and I like to concentrate for the first few pages so that I can let a book properly charm me. I also need library workers who understand me, and who understand books.

The heavenly Yeadon's of Elgin
I also want a calm and beautiful feeling from my bookshop. As I said before, now I'm a bit of a bookshop snob. I really don’t need a bookshop to be piled high with loads of things, with endless shelves of whatever the super-massive publishers are pushing that week. I don’t really need a coffee shop, or an internet café, or piped music. To be honest all I want is a calm and quiet place with a wide range of interesting, beautiful, and challenging titles. I also need booksellers who know what they are doing. I want people who get me, and who get what this book romance means.

I know that everyone comes to reading in different ways, and all too often people don’t become book lovers. I wish I could challenge that, but I know that loving books is not for everyone just as loving wildlife, or nature walks, or birdsong, or hills, or tea… We are all different and we can’t all become booklovers, but for those of us who are we need a few places that buy into our romance with books.

I have to make a sixty mile round-trip to my nearest independent bookshop, and I’m lucky enough to be able to do that and to pay the cover price for a book. This is privilege. I am able to do that because I can just about afford to make this choice. I also acknowledge that this is not an option that others have. I live in a small and rural town that still has a library with dedicated library workers, this is something else that is increasingly denied communities. Far too many people are denied that which should be a fundamental human right - access to information and knowledge. This is despite overwhelming evidence that children who read progress better in their lives.

My daughter is a great booklover and progressed well in her education and now has a good job and is a well-informed and empathetic human being. Like me she grew up with access to a great school library, a house full of books, and with many trips to bookshops. This is also privilege. I know all too well that far too many children don't have access to a school library with an experienced and dedicated professional, and they should. All children deserve this.

Maybe if everyone had access to great school and public libraries staffed by dedicated professionals, and to bookshops of all types, and maybe if they too were lucky enough to be given gifts of books, and grow up surrounded by them, they would grow up not just as readers but as book lovers. If that happened, I am 100% sure we’d have a happier and more well-informed and empathetic society.

But what do I know?

Dawn Finch is a children’s author and librarian, a member of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group committee, and a trustee and former president of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP)

She sits on many national working groups dealing with literacy and reading, and sat on the cross-organisation panel that supported the work of the Reading Agency in the development of the Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment report. This report can be downloaded here.

Dawn has spent over thirty years working in public and school libraries, and is currently working for, and supporting, the CILIP SLG and SLA Great School Libraries Campaign because every child deserves #GreatSchoolLibraries


Anne Booth said...

Very, very true.

Elizabeth Hutchinson said...

Beautifully written Dawn, makes me want to curl up with a good book😊

Dotty Jo x said...

Lovely to read, Dawn! Jo x

Lynne Benton said...

Great post, Dawn - and once again, thumbs up for libraries!