Libraries - so much more than just lenders of books. Jo Carroll

I’ve always known that libraries are important. I’ve retweeted posts that insist they are kept open, liked FB pages that support those that are struggling. Like millions of us, I recall many happy hours in my childhood spent in libraries, and they kept me sane when I was without money to buy any books at all.

But it wasn’t until I volunteered for my local library that I truly realised just how important they are.

I feel strongly that everyone who works in libraries should be paid. But cut after cut after cut means that many libraries can only function with volunteers. Should the money ever be found, I’ll be the first to move aside so someone can have a job. Meanwhile, I help keep the show on the road.

I love it. It’s ‘only’ shelving - but it’s oddly satisfying taking a heavy trolley full of books and finding a home for them all. But it’s while I’m tucking the latest Katie Fforde back into place that I become aware that the library does much more than lend books.

The town I live in has its share of homeless people. Here they can use the computers -- giving them access to agencies that might help them. There is no problem when all their worldly good are a heap behind them -- if they need space, that’s fine. There is also a seminar room with water cooler where I’ve seen homeless people tuck into sandwiches while they study the local paper.

We also provide shelter to people with mental health problems -- over the weeks I’ve come to know them and pass the time of day if they need it. Then there are the lonely and isolated who are in every week, always looking for someone to talk to about books. 

Not the everyone can make it to the library -- and so we have a troop of volunteers who select books for those who are unable to get there to choose their own. What a skill! These volunteers need a relationship with every reader, to understand what will keep them engrossed during lonely hours. I’ve watched trawling shelves, looking at book after book, trying to find the right ones.

And then there are the children. Last week the library echoed to the cry of a child: her mother was taking five minutes to find books for herself, while her three-year-old yelled, ‘I WANT A STORY!’ Attagirl!

(On top of that, I notice when someone has borrowed The Planter’s Daughter, which always gives me a little shiver of pleasure!)


Griselda Heppel said…
Good for you, volunteering in your library. I agree, libraries are such extraordinary community resources, both for books (yay!) and for reference, support, companionship. How poignant that a movement begun a century (? Ha, I should look that up) ago out of sheer altruism and the desire for books to be available to all people became so successful that we take it for granted, not realising the amount of funding needed to keep each library open.

And yes, I'm with the 3 year-old - there's a person with the right priorities!

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