Personally, one of the biggest things I miss in the lockdown is libraries. And yet when I think back over the year before Covid-19 I did not go to libraries that much. In fact, I have felt an attachment to libraries but my time has been so eaten up by work that libraries have had to take a back seat.
The first library that I went to, as a six and seven-year-old, was across a few dangerous roads in Bayswater, near where we had moved to from Notting Hill. From one slum to another. Substandard living was greatly relieved by a visit to the library where I would wander in without brother or parent. And sit and look at books I was as yet unable to read.
The library is still there. What a magical library, the Porchester Road Library, around the corner from our flat. Unfortunately my father wouldn’t let me join and therefore borrow books. He had borrowed a book and not returned it in 1932, and as this was 1952, he thought they might catch up with him and levy a heavy fine.
Who was it who said that if you gave people a library card you civilised them?
But that didn’t stop me using the library. Aside from the joy of looking at books was the joy of being surrounded by books. It was like a forest, a wood of books. And the dirty world existed outside of it.
I started thinking about libraries again because of lockdown, and planning where I am going to go when we get out. When we can move freely again around the place.
I am determined to revisit the libraries that have meant so much to me. The public library on George IV Bridge just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. What a feeling of incredible power you can get from this library. It’s almost as though its wisdom spills over you and makes you a quieter, nicer, saner person, something I have deeply needed. Who was it who said that if you gave people a library card you civilised them? Made them stop fighting and stealing.