Wednesday, 2 March 2011

My Library and Me - Savita Kalhan

Libraries are under threat and there has been a huge outcry against cuts and closures that span the whole of the United Kingdom. And rightly so. Libraries are precious and should be placed under a protection order.
You will all have read or written many articles and blogs about the intrinsic importance of libraries and what they mean and what they provide for the individual, for children, for adults, for the disadvantaged, for society in general.
This is what they meant to me when I was a child.
I came to live in England with my parents when I was 11 months old. My father was an educated man – he spoke and wrote Hindi, Urdu and English, but was forced to leave school much earlier than he would have liked in order to help his parents. My mother never went to school. She was put to work when very young and although all her younger sisters went to school, she missed her chance and by twelve it was too late for her. She speaks only Punjabi, but can understand some Hindi, mainly learnt from films. She was brought up in a village, so as a child her experiences were limited, her knowledge of the world severely restricted.
My parents worked very hard. Our family grew, and we were raised in a very traditional environment. We had to work hard at school and at home. And we weren’t allowed to go out at all. Except to one place – the library.
Both my parents were in complete agreement about this. My father because he wanted us to do well, excel in school and in our studies, make something of ourselves. Even though he was in many respects a traditional Punjabi man, he never considered himself saddled with five daughters. He expected as much from us as if we were boys. And my mother because of her reverence for books. She couldn’t read them herself, but for her they were the source of wisdom, knowledge and understanding, and therefore the means to escape from poverty and derision. She held them in awe and respect. We were never allowed to put books on the floor, or anywhere they might get damaged.
We couldn’t afford to buy any books. So we joined our local library.

Wycombe Library - the grand opening in 1932!

Wycombe Library when I joined it

The brand new Wycombe Library in the Eden Centre and the fantastic Children's Library

As much as school, our library provided us with knowledge, but also a wealth of entertainment and pleasure – I think we always maxxed out our library cards with the number of books allowed to be taken out in one go. It was also to become our sanctuary and refuge through some very difficult and troubled times.
I do not think I would be the person I am today without them.
I would in all probability be trapped within the confines of a small-town Asian community in England, having succumbed to a traditional arranged marriage. It almost happened, but I fought it and escaped that fate by the skin of my teeth, but escape I did because although we were never allowed out while we were growing up, my horizons had been broadened exponentially by everything I had read and learnt and discovered – and it gave me a voice.
For many people, adults and children alike, the library still means as much, and so much more.

More library information:
Campaign for the Book

Alan Gibbons website

ABBA blog guest post ‘What my Library Means to Me’ by Shamila Akhtar, Friday February 22nd:
Fight for Libraries Campaign from The Bookseller
Voices for the Library
On Twitter – write your tweet and add this - #savelibraries. Or use it to search tweets about saving libraries.

Bucks Libraries haven’t escaped the dreaded cuts either. Some libraries may have to close unless run by volunteers, and they also face a 10% cut in opening hours. It’s a treacherously slippery slope. More information on the Friends of High Wycombe Libraries here

I will undoubtedly have missed some important links in my haste to get this post up on time! If any kind person wishes to add any I have missed, please do so in the comments.


catdownunder said...

I have had contact with some of the younger members of a small, closed religious sect in our community. The reading of fiction is not permitted, apart from what is on the school curriculum. Television and radio are not permitted. Computers are not permitted except to access a library catalogue or (on rare occasions) to search for factual information that cannot be found elsewhere. Marriage is only allowed within the sect and by approval of the elders. It is a very narrow existence. For some of these children our local library is a lifeline, just as it was for you.
Any government or council considering closing or cutting back on services needs to be made aware of these things!

Stroppy Author said...

What a lovely post! I'm from a traditional British background, and the library was very important to me as a child, but it wasn't a bridge to a different culture and way of thinking as it was for you. How inspiring - thank you.

Lucy Coats said...

That's a wonderful post, Savita. Libraries mean so much to many of us--they cross all divides and bring people together. That's why we MUST fight to keep them.

Savita Kalhan said...

Catdownunder - And I thought my childhood was restricted! Television was a no-no for us too, but the library was our saviour!

Stroppy Author and Lucy - thank you. Yes it was a bridge, and we all know what happens when they get burnt!

Katherine Langrish said...

Thankyou Savita - an inspiring and through-provoking post.

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