I was talking loudly in the library. Even worse, I was swearing in the library. Just once, but still… And even worse than all of that, I was cheered on by the librarians of Sheffield.
I decided I hadn’t visited enough libraries in the last few years. I love that they exist and what they can help people achieve. But libraries, as ever, are under threat. This symbol of civilisation is deemed a luxury good. While some people are allowed to embezzle our money for access to yachts, and banks can be bailed out and then, once secure, can tell us to piss off so they can make their profits without interference, the rest of us may have to battle to get free access to the latest Bernardine Evaristo.
The last time I wrote in support of libraries I was told libraries were middle class. Someone middle class told me, though they didn’t use the library. They insisted everyone had laptops nowadays and could do all their reading like that and so borrowing books was the equivalent of ploughing a field with a mammoth’s tusk (I am embellishing a little).
This has rarely been my experience of libraries. People in libraries include pensioners catching up on newspapers and periodicals, refugee groups who couldn’t afford to sit in cafes, people applying for jobs on the library computers and children on reading challenges, entranced by an energetic librarian performing Lemony Snicket. On top of this, some people are now gathering in libraries as they are too worried about fuel costs to turn on their own heating.
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Sheffield’s Central Library was busy when I entered. The librarian was helping a man with a book that he had the gist of, but not quite enough for either of them to work out the title. An owl was involved, or an eagle, or both. The stairwell of the library is decorated with quotations encouraging getting lost in a book. Albert Einstein faces me, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”