Dear Mayor Joe Anderson,
Libraries mean so much more than books.
Of course they’re vital, especially to the sort of child I used to be. I can see all the books we had at home when I was young. Five of them are still there.
When I was little, a ‘book’ meant a magazine. It still does, to my Mum. I know it does to a lot of other less fortunate people. Mum’s ‘book’ was her weekly catch up with knitting patterns, humorous anecdotes about hopeless husbands and the delightful doings of grandchildren. She read the sort of magazine Bill Bryson has summed up perfectly: ‘Summer’s here: it’s time for mayonnaise!’
I devoured the romantic stories she loved in those magazines. I also read my way through ‘The Books’ – a set of green hardbacks my parents were given for a wedding present. They’re still in Mum’s display cabinet: volumes on DIY, cookery, gardening, medical matters and a dictionary. They were good for my word power, if not my hypochondria.
From time to time, I was allowed my own ‘book.’ I loved reading Jackie and am for ever grateful to get into the Marvel universe. But I wanted proper books. These were few and far between: birthdays and Christmas weren’t enough for an imagination soaking up Greek and Norse myths, and girls with ponies.
It took very little time to get through all the books in my tiny infant class and then school – then I was taken to the library. It felt like all those birthdays and Christmases happening at once.
I hope there won’t be too many sharp intakes of breath when I say that it was far from all about the books for me, from about the ages of 12 to 16: the age I was finally allowed out by myself into town until the day my brother was taken away.
This is the part it’s hard for me to write and I’m not going to go into great details. I’ll just say that, from a very young age, he had severe mental health issues. He was violent and scary and home wasn’t the sanctuary it should be for a child.
The library was exactly the safe space I wanted and needed. I was also lucky enough to have an excellent library at my grammar school – sadly not a privilege my daughter enjoyed, at the same school, just a couple of years ago. I discovered Punch and broadsheet newspapers, surprised to find these didn’t all have topless girls not much older than me on Page 3. I found out the Dickens we read at school had a talented descendant: Monica. Women could write books!
My parents’ highest hope for me was maybe to work fulltime at my Saturday job in Woolworth’s. I became one of those cliched ‘First in the family at University’ people. I graduated, worked as a journalist, then for the Home and Northern Ireland Offices, Met Police, and charities. I know none of that would have been possible without libraries.
I help out as a volunteer for Writeidea: the reading festival at my local Idea Store in Whitechapel. Despite the encroachment of hipsters and City bonuses, it’s still an area of huge deprivation. I can recognise kids like me when I’m in there, among the old and dispossessed and so many others who have it as their place of retreat and calm and inspiration every day.
I know times are tough and savings have to be made. I also have no doubt whatsoever that libraries save money, in terms of healthcare and crime prevention, and in so many other ways. Closing them seems such a short term economy. I hope you don’t find this out the hard way.
I also hope one day my books may be on library shelves. In any event, although it’s a lovely idea that everyone in Liverpool has a secure and fulfilling place to spend their time, my imagination doesn’t stretch that far. Please don’t take away the spaces that are tried and tested and loved. Don’t close the libraries.
I was lucky enough to find out about the campaign to Save Liverpool’s Libraries when I saw the terrific Cathy Cassidy at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustators annual conference at Winchester last weekend.
I’m updating this page with what I’m doing and thinking about being a writer, and good stuff I’ve found by other people.
Loving the marvellous #bookaday Twitter happening. A chance to highlight one wonderful book each day in the month, with a new theme daily. Brilliant.