There’s a lot flying around about our public libraries at the moment, in Bath where I live and in many other places across the country. Libraries are under threat and campaigns to save them and bolster them up are going strong. During World Book Day events this year I had a glimpse of what a junior school library with a dedicated librarian is like.
Kate, the librarian and I had toured the school as I gave talks and workshops and were heading into the little library for what I thought was a well earned break and a spot of lunch. “Mind you, it’ll be mayhem in here in a minute,” Kate said comfortably as we settled down among the books, the papier mache models and the murals of The Cat in the Hat and James and his Giant Peach.
Kate was right. A sip of tea and two bites of sandwich later and the library was buzzing. Some children had come to meet me and have a copy of their book signed but I wasn’t the main event by any means. There was far too much else going on.
Two girls pored excitedly over Return to Firetop Mountain, eyes alight as they made lists and charts, really living their hero moments. Another group nestled in front of the book shelves playing Top Trumps. Others were busily inventing a writing competition and making winners’ certificates, which I was allowed to endorse with my signature. One boy hopped about with the latest Animal Rescue book, proudly showing me the others he had read in the same series. Another boy kept coming in and out of the library, chanting the title of my new book. “Bird Girl! Bird Girl!” he sang, not because he was planning to read it but just because he was so taken with the sound of the title itself. (I spotted him later with a teaching assistant, contentedly making himself a nest out of a handy cardboard box.)
And finally, yes, there was the totally silent girl who read for the entire lunch break. She sat very close to me but she wasn’t interested in talking to me. She rested her cheek on the table, totally immersed in her book, face almost right inside it, only swapping cheeks when it was time to read the facing page. The book which held her was by the amazing Holly Webb.
And all the while soft-spoken Kate answered questions, wrestled with her orders and her sadly diminishing book budget, organised loans, scanning books in, scanning books out. I’m not sure she ever did finish her lunch.
That little library was humming away, a hive, a hub of activity. And it was a haven too, a place to take one step away from the top volume and the rough and tumble of the playground. What school would want to be without a place like that?
A thriving school library is a mini version of the public libraries in our towns and cities, what they often are, what they should be. A place for the whole of the local community to use in a way which suits them best. An amazingly important resource. Service, support, leisure and pleasure for all. That’s what our libraries can and will be, if only we allow them to be.
Here’s a photo I absolutely love. It’s of a friend’s daughter sitting in Bath’s Central Library, discovering books and everything else that libraries have to offer. The joy on her face is palpable. You wouldn’t want to take that away, now would you?
For more on libraries, read what Nicola Davies has to say in the Guardian.