How important are Books and Libraries..?

Do you like books…?

I am always reading.

I love the English language and in particular how it produces for me - not sure how to describe it - graphic descriptive images.

I like to read language that produces moving pictures in my mind – as if I’m watching a film.

I don’t think I’ve really learned how to read yet!

At the age of about 14, a school report said, even though I was always in the top five in class - “could do better if he tried”. I never did!

The video above ‘reflections of a journey as an undocumented child in America’, brought home to me how important books and libraries can be for deprived children in particular.

As a former librarian, the library space is key. Books in the libraries, maybe important; I do like books. It’s more the idea of/memory of books and the librarians who introduced new ones to me, and the access to information that matters. The interaction between a smart, caring professional and a young person. It’s amazing to think how a library was built to hold books but the key to library space is the public access and the personnel, in that order. Beautiful collective community spaces, in which to work, relax, observe, and think. Somehow the books keyed into the purpose of the library space, so that just by nature of the bookshelves, the shelter and lighting and seating, to accommodate use of the books, made the library a space for working, relaxing, observing, and thinking. So, the nature of reading and the supporting structure for it, seems important in society.


Nice, despite being a tad indebted to Glen Baxter!


Or Gary Larson

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Books for me are a very important part of my life. Before going to university, I was an avid reader, but with a narrow portfolio … mainly science fiction (I’m aspie, so what do you expect :grin:). At university, I met a wonderful woman who inspired me to look further. She lent me her well thumbed complete works of William Shakespeare and told me ‘stick with it, it will be worth it’. It took time, but she was correct. Since that time (over 40 years ago), I’ve followed the advice she gave me. I haven’t seen her since those days and wonder what happened to her. If we ever met, I’d thank her from the bottom of my heart.

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Age about 12-13, on a visit to friends of my parents, my mother’s friend asked my mother “Can Christopher speak? Does he only read?” I can even remember what I was reading at the time - I was gripped by the Beau Geste stories.

I think that as an only child, reading is something of a substitute for the interaction of siblings. And even if one has friends, one can’t always be round at their house, so reading is, in some sense, creating a missing world, certainly for a child.

But I have come to a decision which touches on the thread “What would you have brought/left behind?” And that is books are just as much ‘stuff’ as anything else.

I am now hiding behind a notional sofa … the cushions are flying past…

I, as much as anyone else, have had the idea that books are an expression of oneself and the accumulated collection of ones books expressed ones ‘journey’. They furnish a room in a way that other objects do not. There is numinance, perhaps, in a collection of books: caused by the interaction of the mind of the writer with the mind of the reader.

But in the same way as a friend was right when he said, “Your mother was not a bow-fronted chest of drawers” when I was agonising over whether to keep it or sell it, I decided that was the case with my books. I have dragged unreasonable kilograms of books about the world and decided that this would have to end.

So the lifetime - and I mean since childhood of about 8 y.o. - of books on trout and salmon fishing, including a first edition of the bible of fishing for sea-trout, by Hugh Falkus, they all went. I kept two - “Stillwater Trout Fishing” and “Trout Flies for Stillwater” The 2m+ of books on sailing - narratives, instructional and pilotage - out.

Unfortunately I was not present in Spain when my flat sold, so I was unable to deal with my shelves-full of military history in the same way. I am unlikely to re-read 'Haig’s Generals’ now that I no longer take tours on the Western Front.

The result is that the majority of the boxes piled up in what will eventually be my guest bedroom have on them ‘books -box A’, ‘books - box B’. I knew I was in trouble when I found ‘books - box J’

Like other people, perhaps, I go thu’ phases of a particular genre of books. For years that was travel [narrative] - the Brysons, the Rabans, Tristan Jones, Paul Theroux. I will never re-read ‘Slow Boats To China’ or 'Slow Boats Home’ by Gavin Young., tho’ they were very enjoyable.

Bristol has an Oxfam shop dedicated solely to books. Several trips later, I was hundreds of books lighter.

Now I am on with diaries. The diaries of Harold Nicholson when he was attached to the Foreign Office group attending the 1919 Armistice Convention - wonderful. John Maynard Keynes at the same convention. Both writers predicted WW2.

The diaries of the appalling snob and social climber, ‘Chips’ Channon - fascinating. Next up will be the letters of Diana Cooper to her son, John Julius Norwich, “Monster, Darling”.

But these are all now just a few kbs in my e-reader. What a boon to the reader, these things!

I have no argument with anyone who says that a real, paper book is superior, as an object, to an e-reader edition*. Sometimes I buy both the e-book and a hardback, if the illustrations are central to the book. Any book on Wellington that does not have the wonderful portrait by Goya and/or Lawrence is a poor thing.

The e-reader edition has its place - and that is certainly in a suitcase or carry-on bag or in a refurb site like my house.

  • I read a ludicrous 1* review of a Kindle edition of a DIY manual where the reviewer complained about the quality of the illustrations! E-readers do not [yet] do illustration.

There will be book shelves in my house - just a great deal less of them than in the past.


Similar thing with me. My mother taught me to read before I started primary school. I took to it readily. By age 9 I was using my mothers library cards to choose adult books for myself. I also chose books for my mother to read. I spent lots of time in the reference library upstairs, reading about and learning all sorts of stuff. I just couldn’t get enough. The amount of reading I do has actually reduced as I’ve got older, but I’m still an avid reader.

I had 4 brothers and sisters, so for me it was more a case of hiding myself away from all the chaos :grin:

I have done virtually nothing but read for most of my life. As a child I regularly missed buses etc and was often late for things because I go deaf and blind to anything but what I’m reading. My father had a friend who designs libraries, the fixtures and the content, isn’t that a wonderful thing to do.

Yes it is. But think of the poor person who designed that library in an industrial suburb of some UK city - one which had almost 100% vote to Leave. It had been open for over a year by referendum time. Not a single book had been taken out.

Prof Curtice’s graph of educational attainment v vote Leave - an X shape - writ large.

Oh no that really is telling isn’t it, how utterly utterly grim.

It is but we are not allowed to say, “a great many Leave voters were very stupid, uneducated people who just wanted to stick one on the toffs”.

But this is essentially what Curtice found.

En el otro mano the Spanish think it was The Queen

This is a ‘ninot’ , a figure in one of the displays of the Las Fallas fiesta of 2019. It shows HMQ with a saw, sawing UK off from the EU. The notice at bottom left reads, in Valenciano [a dialect of Catalan] “Pity the poor hoteliers. If the English leave the EU who will there be to get drunk and jump off balconies?”

Talking of cutting things off, las Fallas has powerful political overtones. Even before the more recent scandals around Juan Carlos, the point was made here about his mistresses, who appear on the medals on his chest. His wife, Queen Sofia, wields the snippers.

The elephant is life-size.


Not questioning your sincerity, but it’s always stronger if one cites a source to support that sort of assertion (just as one would in an academic essay).

And so to my libraries. I got my first public library tickets at the age of five and quickly came to despise the things called’ libraries’ in my primary school, which were actually just a folding book case in each classroom with boring books. Probably when I was about seven I discovered a couple of children’s books about dinosaurs in the public library (in those days dinosaurs were far less ubiquitous than today) but I’d found them from books on whales and whaling, which were in an adjacent section (thank you Dewey!).

So, precocious child asks his Sister of Mercy class teacher, “Were there dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden?” (we’d already been told a lot about that) and then, without waiting for an answer, the killer question, “Did the dinosaurs go on Noah’s ark?”

Look of alarm on Irish nun’s face! “Mark, those are terrible things, they’re very sinful.” Swiftly followed by the interrogation, “And where did you learn about such things?” she couldn’t bring herself to say the word ‘dinosaur’ and, in that moment I began a lifetime of questioning orthodoxy!

I’d love to post much much more on the subject of libraries, because I’ve loved so many, big and small around the world and have been fortunate to have had control of several university departmental library budgets and studied in many great libraries. However, I think my life in libraries is probably better suited to an essay or a book chapter.

Good news for one very pleased, tearful librarian, at Cambridge, I think. Heard it on the radio this morning.

Darwin’s missing notebooks, two of them, lost for 20 years have turned up. Returned anonymously in very good condition, in pink packaging…

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Dug this up on google, hardly a big innercity library though,
No books loaned from Barrow Island library in a year - BBC News.