On why libraries should have a kind of magic

I have a terrible book addiction. I buy books far too often. Working in a bookshop really does not help. However, I will have to douse the habit if I am to read 1001 children’s books, or risk bankruptcy. So, I decided to visit my local public library and start borrowing books again.

I have not been to a public library in years. I used to go all the time when I was younger, with my mum or my gran, and I loved the library just a few streets away from where I lived. It is in a beautiful old-fashioned building, and the children’s section had beanbags to curl up in, and bright displays of books lining the walls. I was actually quite excited to go visit it again, and start up a new membership, but unfortunately this library is being renovated. However, it is part of a network of libraries so I decided to go to the next closest one.

I have read enough books to have painted a picture in my mind about what a library should be like. There should be something cosy, and welcoming, and, well, magical about a library. You should feel a special type of book warmth when you walk in.

This library was not cosy, welcoming, warm or magical in the slightest.

It was in a modern building, covered in glass, and all the books were arranged in utilitarian metal shelves, and the signs on each shelf looked more like they belonged in an office building than in a library. I felt uncomfortable in it, like I was a small child who had wandered into a cold, clinical office by mistake. Needless to say, there was no one in the children’s section.

I was helping my nana cook for a dinner party a few months ago, and one of her guests was reminiscing about a dinner set her grandmother had bought during the Second World War. Apparently, it was very hard to obtain dinner sets at that time, and most people could only buy one pattern of cups, plates and dishes – a very plain, frill-less dinner set, which, for some reason, was painted orange with brown flowers. They were not made to be pretty, they were made to be useful.

I felt like this library was a plain, frill-less dinner set.

Perhaps I am being too judgmental, but I believe a library should be more than just useful. The books that it contains are cosy, and welcoming, and warm and magical, so I think that a library should be that too. A library is not just a container for books. It should have a soul, too.

I just hope when my favourite childhood library reopens after the renovations are finished, its soul has remained intact.

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2 comments

  1. I agree with you — a library should have a soul. In my local library system, that soul pops up most often in the kids’ section with painted murals and kid-size furniture. I’ve often thought that the adult section needs to have the same welcoming atmosphere. But I can’t really complain — my local library is excellent.

  2. Pingback: On trees growing in libraries « 1001 Children's Books

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