Recently, library cuts have been a major topic in the world of literature in Britain. The financial crisis and the resulting government cuts mean that many libraries will need to close down. Because who really borrows books these days when the internet offers information for free or next to nothing, and you don't even need to leave your house to do so?
Whilst I may not use libraries that often anymore these days, it's nothing to do with me not wanting to visit one. In fact, I have looked for libraries I could visit, but realized that there was no way I could make the opening times due to being grown up and having a full-time job now. However, there was a time in my life when I was younger, and I frequented libraries quite often - not just to borrow books, may I say. Libraries are seriously much more than that.
The first library I remember borrowing books from was a tiny one, close to my elementary school. It was probably just the size of my living room now (ok, maybe plus the hallway), but for a girl the age of 8 that little oasis opened a door to hundreds of stories. I used to go there often after school - these were the days when 8-year-old kids were still allowed to walk or cycle back home on their own, without parents having to do the school run. Of course, my parents also bought me my own books - but the library offered me the chance to just browse around, and find the books I liked with the absence of my parents. Let's say it offered my younger self a taste of literary independence. No form of internet can have the same impact on a child as a room full of books. Whilst the internet will give you what you want quickly, finding a book you want to take home in a library is akin to finding that buried treasure in an adventure. It takes longer, but it feels more special.
At high school, the library closest to my school was huge. It was the main public library of the city I lived in - seven stories high, and with fantastic facilities (see picture below). For a bookish girl like me, it was my very own piece of heaven. I spent countless afternoons there during my teenage years - this time, not only spending time in the fiction area, but using non-fiction books to do homework, and doing research on what I wanted to do later in life, i.e. university, career, etc. Back then, the top floor consisted of the music department which offered library users the opportunity to book the "piano room" which had a grand piano in it. I was never a great piano player - I hated the discipline of having to learn playing notes perfectly in the exact way they were written maybe a hundred or so years ago (my brother is much better than me in that). I loved tinkering about on the piano, playing my own made-up stuff (which I still do from time to time), but there was no way, anyone would have let me touch an expensive grand piano for that. I mean... me? Silly me?? Well, the librarians didn't seem to mind, and I spent a few hours of my life imagining I was one damn amazing pianist. If only.
I attended Durham University after high school. Obviously, universities have libraries. I have to admit that I only ended up in the library in the third term of my first year to prepare for the exams. The reason I didn't go there earlier was (1) the library was up a freakin' hill (ok, in retrospect, it wasn't too big a hill, but all the students called it "the hill" which made it seem like Mount Everest to me - there was also another hill called "Cardiac Hill", but that's another story); and (2) my college was one of the few lucky enough to have its own small library. I did go to the main library much more often in my second and third years. And I swear - not - that it wasn't only because my younger self had crushes on certain boys who frequented the library more often than me (and they weren't even geeky). For anyone who has a daughter doing this - don't stop them! Had I developed those crushes earlier, my grades would have been much better!!
When I moved to do my Masters degree in London, I even had access to the British Library - a grand institution that doesn't lend books per se, but rather offers them to people for research purposes on its premises. Why I went there was not necessarily because I needed the books, but because the environment made it easier for me to write my papers. There is something about the subtle tension and quietness of libraries that makes me work better - where you know that people are meant to remain quiet, but at the same time, you know that everyone's brain is at work... whether it be reading, wondering, thinking, pondering... who knows? Fact is, they do.
My point is that libraries are not solely there for the books we may borrow. They are there for so many other things that end up fueling our imagination. They do so in a very subtle way - we don't tend to know the impact they had on our lives until much later, when we look back and remember. I may have the benefit of the internet now, and the Kindle to fuel my consumption of books, but this doesn't change the fact that my most perfect dream home (the kind of home I could only afford if my name ended with "Gates" or "Buffet" or anything of the kind) always includes my very own library - with several stories of books in dark wooden shelves and spiral staircases connecting the floors with one another. Yes, it's just a dream where I can have all that I want... but how come in such a dream, I still long for an entire library that is mine?