Today is – as I’m sure you already know – National Libraries Day in the UK. It’s a chance for us all to celebrate our wonderful library service, and remind Certain Adults Who Should Know Better why they’re needed.
While I was writing Big Woo! I also worked at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, giving guided tours of its oldest reading room. Duke Humfrey’s Library opened in 1488 and has been in use ever since, although most modern students never use it for their studies (the books are so valuable you aren’t allowed to take a pen inside, only pencil!). I wish these photos captured anything close to the atmosphere in there; the centuries of whispered ideas hanging in the air. When you give guided tours, you learn a sort of script, and say the same things in the same order over and over again – but I could never get bored of walking into that room.
The tourists always loved being shown a ‘real’ ancient book, with a chain attaching it to the shelf. In the fifteenth century, books were phenomenally valuable; sometimes only one or a handful of copies of a text existed at all, so the librarians kept them chained up, reserved for the use only of the scholars of the university.
Your local public library probably isn’t as fancy and romantic as Duke Humfrey’s. The books inside won’t be the only copies ever made, worth millions of pounds. But that’s a wonderful thing. Public libraries are democratic places. You don’t need to be a scholar to get help from a librarian. You don’t need to pass an exam to use their IT facilities, or join a community group. You don’t need lots of money to take away a stack of books twenty high. All you have to do is walk through the door.
And that’s a lot easier to do if your local library remains, you know, open.
What are you doing for National Libraries Day?
You can find a map with all today’s events here.