There are hearts everywhere – the shops are full of red-wrapped *everything* and the florist’s window at the bottom of the hill is packed with hearts and roses. Even the supermarket is getting in on the act with special ‘meal deals’ for two. Now, I’m lucky enough to have a fantastic husband who knows he is my sweetheart every day, so I think he’ll forgive me if the love letter I write this Valentine’s Day is not to him. Instead, I want to say how very much I love libraries. It’s not a new idea – I am inspired by campaigners and passionate library-lovers Alan Gibbons and Jackie Morris – but I do very much think we should all take a moment to remember what libraries mean to us, and to tell the world, in case we lose them.
I am a member of many wonderful libraries. University libraries countrywide; grand old private libraries and libraries owned by great institutions – but I am also a member of three different local authority libraries too. That’s where my libraries adventure began – going to the local library in Hove, always clutching a huge pile of books. My parents were prolific readers – the narrow three story house I grew up in was held up by books, with built in bookshelves lining all staircases and filling my father’s study. Bookshelves in the bedrooms; more in the halls…but there were never enough books. That’s what libraries were for, and I was led by example. Piles of books went backwards and forwards to the library, greedily gobbled down in between. I remember leafing through the index boxes and later the wonder that was the microfiche – no computers then for us. Tall stacks; the smell of old books, sunlight flooding in through the long glass windows and the wonder of finally being given an adult ticket. Warm memories of my family; of books shared and ideas discussed around the kitchen table.
As an adult, I still love libraries. I even got married in one! As a mum, I have lovely memories of choosing books with my children; as an author, so many lovely hours spent sharing a love of reading with families. I still get a thrill when I see my books on the shelves and look at the stamps inside to see how much they are borrowed and shared. I love the idea that my books are available to anyone who wants to read them with no money changing hands. And that’s what libraries are all about – sharing a love of books down the generations. It seems that it is up to us at this present time to take a stand and ensure that this rich tradition of books and education is not lost. Books need to be freely available in every sense of the word – and libraries are the best way to make that happen. It’s up to us.