I was once pictured in an educational book called My Class Goes to the Library in 1985. I wasn’t supposed to be in the book, it was just that my mom (a childminder) was photographed taking the star of the book into school. I don’t know if that child went to the library with her parents who were doctors but my mom used to take me a lot because she left school when she was 14 and wanted me to read and write well.
I loved my local library which was an old redbrick with FREE LIBRARY engraved in stone above the door. I loved the wooden counter where you would have one side for returning and one side for taking out books. The children’s section was the best. Our school had great links to the library and we were taken there every few weeks to choose books with our cardboard ticket holders (four in total). I won an art competition when I was six and my painting of Red Riding Hood was put up in the library; I was so proud. I also won five pounds with which I bought some leg warmers. I don’t know what happened to those leg warmers, but the library is still there.
At secondary school, I would often spend my break times in the library. I had a weird obsession with flicking through cookery books and even though I never made any of the recipes I still loved sitting there and looking at something new and exciting.
My university library was one of the first places where I realised how comfortable I felt in libraries. The library was one of the first places I went to after my mom passed away in 2003. I was an atheist at the time and I wondered why she had died and whether there was really a GOD. I read the Quran, Kabbalah and other spiritual books that the library had. I wanted somewhere quiet to sit and think. The library was the place.
I know there has been a decline in library use since the onset of the internet, but a library is a real physical space. It’s free to go there and just be yourself (a not too loud version obviously). You don’t have to dress up fancy, or make sure you look good for your INSTAGRAM photo. It’s a place of learning, of discovery and a quiet place of contemplation.
When my children were born, one of the first things I did was sign them up for a library card. Who wouldn’t want to take out ten free books and go to free activities for children? It was brilliant. I was there every Tuesday at Sutton Coldfield Library for Storytime. It took me out of the house to meet other mums and to be amongst books with my kids. Of course, I do sometimes buy books. But going to the library allows us to read so many more. We’ve borrowed nearly one thousand books from Sutton Coldfield Library in the past few years since it was re-opened. One thousand. They say that the more books a child has at home, the better they are at reading. My son is six and can already read children’s novels. I think the correlation is right.
Stories are important for the social and moral development of our children. Through books children learn to about other cultures, about themselves and the world around them. They can travel to space, they can journey to the ends of the earth and meet characters like them and those who are different too. The library allows them access to this for free. Sutton Coldfield Library has one of the best children’s sections in the city. It is bright, colourful, welcoming and vibrant. We hope that it remains in the centre of our town and that the community will continue to have a place to go to read, to use the computers and to research their local history.
Tina Freeth, author