The hunger

When it hits, it hits hard. It’s a fear; a twitch that manifests itself in the crook between forefinger and thumb. A realisation that starts there, right there in the muscle memory of your hands and travels slowly to your mind, and there gains form, gains shape, gains weight. And it’s a moment that stops you in your tracks.

You have nothing to read at home.

The moment you walk in that door, flick the lights on and turn the oven on, .the moment just then when you’re sliding into your home-self, and you have a fragment of space to breathe in, a moment to lose yourself from the day, that moment demands something new to bury your head in and you have nothing to fulfill that need.

Books throng your shelves, they pack and cover every space you’ve got money to fill, but that’s not enough. There’s more out there. You know this as clear as day. You want the next installment, the next episode, and until they beam it into your hands, Star Trekked from some mythical transporter that gets built handily close to your house whilst not contravening local planning policy, you don’t have it. You don’t have it and you want it. You want it so bad.

And the books you do have just won’t do. They’ve all got their space and place in your heart, they do otherwise they wouldn’t be there, but when the hunger strikes, they’re not good enough.

When the hunger hits, you need to feed it. You need to lose yourself in something amazing, something that makes you able to want to leave this story in every place you visit ever so others can have the reaction you’ve had.

Stories are our superpowers. They’re out there, and they can change the life of each and every one of us. You read people living the life you want to live, could have lived, should have lived, and you learn how to be brave and wise and bold. You learn about experiences so alien to yours, you can’t even begin to fathom that.

But you do. All of this exposure to knowledge and experience, so freely given to anybody who wants it, changes you. Even when you don’t realise it, these books you read have an impact upon you.

And I can’t ever begin to imagine a world that doesn’t bend over backwards to let that happen.

Libraries for beginners

Everyone knows what a library is. But not everybody goes into them. This can be for a variety of reasons – you may be nervous, shy, unaware that they’re there, think you don’t need them, think they’re boring or whatever.

Sorry but that’s all wrong.

You need them. Even when you don’t think you need a library yourself, you need one in your community. Libraries empower the community to better themselves. They provide an open, safe and non-judgemental environment.  Libraries are one of our greatest inventions – and they’re also one of the most powerful. Where else can you enter a thousand worlds and learn a thousand things all for free? Check out the #savelibraries hashtag on Twitter for an inspirational stream of reasons to love libraries.

So here’s my beginners guide to libraries.

1. Libraries are here for you. And the people who work there are not doing it for the money. Unless they’re in a managerial / supervisory role / qualified librarians, the likelihood is that they’re earning peanuts. So they’re not there because it’s a financially fabulous position. They’re there because they believe in literature, in education, in information and in the power of literacy. Use these people. Librarians (and sidebar, this also includes the person who runs the staff canteen) are some of the greatest allies you can have. They will reccomend titles to your kids. Point you in the direction of the latest dvds. Help you out with the kids homework topics. Say hi to you when you walk in. Provide a friendly face to the people who don’t have anybody to smile at them or anybody left who knows their name.

2. If the staff don’t do any of the above, or look at you with disdain, you can complain. Write to the council. Tell them. This is your service and you deserve better. And yes, I’ve worked in public and private libraries and complained myself. I have certain standards of the library service that I provide and particularly in public libraries, I was always aware that YOU are paying me. So I did my job to the utmost because I took pride in it and I expect that pride and passion from others that I meet in the world of libraries. You should expect the same.

3. Take your kids in. Be respectful of the other users but don’t treat it as a hallowed space. Libraries are for the public and the public includes children. Don’t force them to take a book home. Use the library. Make it part of your everyday routine. Make it the norm. Say hi to the library staff. Get your kids signed up. Tell them their names. These people will look after your kids in this environment. They’re not babysitters so don’t ever leave your children by themselves. But a good library assistant will have a chat with your kids, treat them as equals, ask them what they’re interested in, go “Oh, yeah, Pokemon, we’ve got some brilliant books, see I’ll show you and your Mum where they are, shall I?..”

And if you’ve never been before, February 5th would be a great time to start…

Libraries : an easy, but not especially wise, cut

Financially times are hard. We’re all having to make cuts. And one of the perennial public bodies which surfaces at such times are libraries.

A library is an easy thing to cut. It drinks in money for very little obvious result.

I’ve spoken before about the sad truth that the cliched old librarian still exists. And that’s another easy reason to cut libraries. They’re staffed by people who look at you funny the moment you walk in. If you walk in at all. Most libraries are placed in weird, old positions and staffed at funny hours or two days a week until 1.30pm but only on months ending with a Y.

It’s too too easy to cut a service which doesn’t appear to do much on the surface.

But that’s wrong.

I am an advocate of libraries and the power they can give an individual. A good librarian has the same impact as a teacher – you remember them for life. They give you power.

I remember talking to my father who studied night after night in a library in order to gain his qualification as an accountant. I remember the children who run up to me in supermarkets and eagerly chatted with me about what they’re reading. I remember the girl, social outcast, visibly disadvantaged, who found a warm safe and none-judgemental environment. I remember the old men, charming the ladies as they discussed the morning newspapers, before going home alone.

Libraries are important. And, in the right hands, they’re brilliant. That’s why talk of cuts makes me so sad. Because I know, that the politicians, the people behind this, they’ve never seen what a good library can do.