My favourite library
5 years ago
So as you may or may not have heard, the City of Liverpool recently decided – against a backdrop of library closures and protest campaigns across the country – to close 11 of their 18 libraries; a decision, happily, that was reversed in response to a protest and a “love letter” to libraries by more than 500 authors, illustrators, musicians and actors. It’s a lovely story and a testament to the power of positive, collective action. And it’s a really big deal.
In response, Book Week Scotland and the Guardian are running a “Love Letters to Libraries” event, in which readers are invited to share their memories of their favourite libraries. And so I decided that I’d jump on the blog and share my own.
Goodwood is a busy little suburb near the centre of Adelaide, South Australia. It’s a popular commuter neighbourhood, being close to and convenient for the City, with a long row of shops, a slightly historic cinema, a number of beautiful colonial-era churches and any number of pubs. There are cool coffee shops and quirky little boutiques, because it’s that sort of area.
Goodwood Library isn’t particularly grand. It doesn’t have an extraordinary number of books, it’s not a vast or ancient building, no-one particularly famous wrote their manuscript in its reading room. You can’t even find, as I discovered today, a good picture online of it; the above slightly distorted image is a Google StreetView grab, and the best I could get.
What it is, however, is less than a hundred yards from Goodwood Primary School, where your author spent his formative years. It had close ties to the school, ran afterschool groups and, with a large playroom full of beanbags and climbing blocks, was generally very welcoming of kids.
We were a single-parent household, for most of my childhood; my mother worked long days, and my brother and sister and I took ourselves to and from school every day. The Library was a haven, at the end of the day, or at weekends when I wanted to get out of the house. Looking back, an extraordinary number of my memories of that time involved the library: reading, playing with friends, bothering the staff. I made friends there; I encountered the divine Miss Bette Midler’s stand-up routine in the record room; I played video games for the first time (I even won a competition one of the librarians ran, one Sunday); I even had my first slightly confused lesson about sex there, (shamefully) stealing a copy of The Joy of Sex to read (“look at”) out of sight.
And more than anything, I read. I’d go and read all day, then take home as many books as they let me borrow at the end of the day, so that I could keep reading until I came back.
Ultimately, my love of books (and my career in publishing) originated in my parents, both of whom kept houses full of books and both of whom I remember reading to me in my infancy. But it was nourished and nurtured by Goodwood Library, and while I have stood in many libraries since leaving Goodwood behind – some of them ancient and grand indeed – this will always be the library I remember best.