As South African Library Week (SALW) draws to a close (17 March 2012 – 24 March 2012) many book-lovers are posting their thoughts about libraries and their role in society, including Tammy February’s article on Why Libraries Rock.
I was inspired to write my own.
Libraries have always been special places for me. The presence of so many books, that papery smell, hundreds of stories brimming with potential inside brightly colored spines… it’s like a temple for those who love to read. Plus, libraries are soothing. It’s the quiet, I think, that does it.
Libraries are an integral part of my past.
Long before the days of employment and credit cards, I used to walk to the local library every week to stock up. My favorites were anything by Stephen King, Agatha Christie mysteries, science fiction paperbacks and books about vampires. I read A LOT. And before leaving, I would always check the kids section to see if there was a Harry Potter that I could re-read. (I must have read The Prisoner of Azkaban about fifty times.) All the librarians knew me. Sometimes, a book would be waiting for me because the librarian remembered that I had asked for it the week before.
Going to the library was my time. And those visits were always the best times. There was never any disappointment, only excited expectation about what gems I was going to discover on the shelves. I count myself lucky that I had such a thirst for books. It fueled my imagination and made it very easy to choose a path in life that led me to where I am today.
Funnily enough, in my first year of high school I did an aptitude test that revealed I was best suited to become a librarian. For a while I seriously considered it, but then I remembered what I really wanted to do was write.
Years later, I was invited to talk at the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) end of year function where I saw a familiar face from my old neighborhood library. She remembered me, and said they had all my books in stock, which is really wonderful and surreal at the same time.
Libraries are special to me for another reason too. I met my boyfriend at one.
I was asked by a magazine to go to the Rondebosch Library for a photoshoot. It was there where I met the photographer, a young man with a pierced lip and glasses, leaning against his car and typing into his phone. He was surprised at first, and admitted he thought I would be older, because in his view, all writers were old. I guess I was surprised too by how well we got along.
Today I can’t drive past Rondebosch Library without smiling.
So yes, libraries are special. They are home to books and memories and potential. They’re the keepers and cataloguers of the world’s collected knowledge. And I can’t think of a more important role than that.