As soon as I could read I was a bookworm and as I was one of a large family, the library was the only way that I could have access to books.
At first, my mother used to take me and my four little sisters to Morningside Library in Edinburgh in the 1960s. We all had to stay close to mum – the youngest one carried on Mum’s hip. We had to be very quiet and patient while Mum picked out a novel – usually a romance to be read in her very few spare, snatched moments over the following three weeks. Then we’d all troop over to the children’s section where me, and my sister next to me in age, were allowed to make a quick selection for ourselves. We had to be quick in order to be in and out of the library before the little ones got restless and noisy, and before the baby started bawling.
It wasn’t until I was ten or eleven that I was allowed to go to the library on my own. And, oh, the joy of those solitary trips! I could dawdle along by the shelves, take books down to explore whilst sitting on one of the little seats that some enlightened (for the time) librarian had provided. I could ponder my choice – a Katy book, or an Enid Blyton, a Noel Streatfield or Lorna Hill ballet story, or a Ruby Ferguson pony tale – or joy of joys pick several.
As a high school pupil, I remember walking across the city and up the steep hill that is the Mound in Edinburgh, to the Central Library on George the IV Bridge (pictured above). I not only went there to borrow books, but also to do revision during study leave before my O grades and Highers. For these study sessions I went upstairs to the reference library and took up residence for the morning at one of the big, polished tables there. Compared to life in our small, cramped and noisy house, it was bliss to have this quiet place in which to study. And no librarian ever asked me what I was doing there or asked me to make way for adult scholars.
When I was a young mother, I walked my pram and babies to the village library near where I lived on the outskirts of Glasgow. There I borrowed board and picture books for the children and novels, recipe books and audio cassettes of the latest pop and rock music for myself. It was the eighties, the mortgage rate was 17%, we had only my husband’s salary and once again the library was a life enhancing facility.
By the nineties, we were back living in Edinburgh and my children could walk to Leith library to borrow Enid Blyton, Goosebumps and Babysitter Clubs. And I renewed my acquaintance with my beloved reference library whilst needing a peaceful place to study for my Masters degree.
And now I live in a remote area in the north of the Isle of Skye and it is the library van that provides an easy and convenient link for accessing books – paper and electronic, DVDs and music. I can’t imagine my life, or that of my family, without the presence of a library. What a leveller of opportunity and access they can be. And I do hope they still exist – in some form at least – for many generations to come.