I realised today that although I’ve spent months helping other people to tell their library stories over at Voices for the Library, I’ve never told mine. It’s nothing special – just one more life made a little less ordinary by libraries.
I can’t remember ever not being a member of the library. As a child, Saturday afternoons bounded by mini kickstools and the printed page. As a young adult, away at uni and bereft of my books for the first time, going to Manchester Central Library, and sitting up all night to devour all 8 books in one mammoth gorge.
I met a Childline councillor at a literary event a few years ago, and admitted to her that I was addicted to books. She thought for a moment, and then said that it was the only healthy addiction she’d ever heard of.
She was wrong.
It’s not healthy. Unmanaged, it has all the symptoms of any other addiction. The hunger for the next fix that draws you mind away from everything else. Retreating from friends and family to sequester yourself with the object of your obsession. Staying up late, indulging, and being late and groggy in the morning. Missing school/uni/work altogether for just one more book, one more hit, I have to know what happens…
The one thing that set me apart from other junkies? I never had to steal to feed my habit. I didn’t need to – all the books I could ever want, ever need, were in the library. A whole building full of books, for you to touch and read and take home – do you have any idea how incredible that is? An everyday wonder that, because it is everyday, we have ceased to call wonderful.
Older, my habit under control, but never quite kicked (once a book junkie always a book junkie), I start to cast around for a career. I have a vague feeling that there is more to libraries than just the books, and that – whatever it is – if it’s associated with libraries, it must be pretty darn awesome. I was right.
I looked for a career, and I found a vocation. And I found the very very best thing about libraries. It’s not the books, or the computers, or the community events or the bookclubs or the bounce and rhyme or the safe space or the information on anything you could ever possibly need to know. It’s the librarians. The most competent, dedicated and passionate group of people I’ve ever met. The people who will give all they have defending the right to free, open, impartial access to information to all. The people who make everything else that libraries do possible.
And today, on Save Libraries day, I’m especially proud of them. I’m proud of all the battles they’re fighting for the good of society, and I’m proud of them for the challenges they’re overcoming to do so: the threats from employers, the hostility of councillors, the accusations of selfishness, the hideousness that is online comment forums. And I am immensely proud and privileged to call these people my colleagues, my friends. I usually call myself an information professional, but not today.
Today, I am a librarian.