Guest Post: Libraries That Changed My Life by Anna James

Hello my loves!

Today’s post is probably the most exciting one that I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing on my blog. A couple of weeks ago, you may have noticed that I posted a review of one of my now favourite books of all time; Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James. Well today, I have the pleasure of having Anna on my blog telling you all about the libraries that changed her life!

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Libraries have changed my life in so many ways. It is horrifying to see so many public and school libraries closing or under threat of closure, or run by (well-intentioned I don’t doubt) volunteers. Libraries and librarians helped me navigate books (and life) and in them I found or was pointed towards most of the books that were formative to me growing up. Here’s my life in libraries…

My first school libraries

I was lucky enough to have proper libraries at all three schools and I went to and my first school (I went through a three tier school system in Northumberland) had two separate well-stocked libraries; a tiny one for the smaller children, and a bigger one for Years 3 and 4. I remember my first school library as a small, square room with bookshelves lining every single bit of wall that stretched up into the sky. It can’t possibly be as tall as I remember but it seemed limitless to me. I can vividly remember being allowed to use it for the first time when I was in Year 2. Once we’d finished the reading schemes we were allowed to choose our own books and I was determined to be the first in my class, and I can immediately summon the triumphant feeling of walking down the corridor on my own to the library and being allowed to choose anything I wanted from those seemingly endless shelves. When I was allowed access to the other library, I voluntarily offered to tidy the shelves, so it seems a career as a librarian was always on the cards for me…

My childhood public library

My local library was Ponteland library, a small, in hindsight fairly erratically stocked library which is where I found so many of my favourite authors (some of them years and years before I probably should have been reading them). It’s where I found Eva Ibbotson, Diana Wynne Jones, the Saddle Club and Sweet Valley High. When I was at high school, my sister and I used to walk up to the library after school and “do our homework” (we read) until my Mum had finished work. It’s also where we would go pre-family holidays to choose our six books that were then promptly locked in the spare bedroom to ensure we didn’t read them all before we left.

My university library

I studied Modern and Medieval History at the University of Birmingham, which has a gorgeous leafy campus in Edgbaston. At the centre of campus is a semi-circle of red brick buildings, Old Joe (the world’s tallest free standing clock tower!) and there used to be a huge library. It’s since been demolished and a new, fancy, no doubt much more equipped for purpose, library built. As a History student I spent uncountable hours in the old library, in dark and dusty stacks, in the feverish short loans section as essays were due, and in my favourite fifth floor room with the big tables and windows. Even when I was stressed and tired and nervous, walking into that library never ceased to entrance me, and it was there that I decided to become a librarian.

My school library

This time when I say my school library, I mean the one I ran and worked in for nearly five years. I was a school librarian at a secondary school and sixth form in the Midlands and while it was an incredibly challenging, emotionally charged job, I loved it. I don’t miss arguing with PE teachers about who booked the minibus first, and I don’t miss fighting for more budget, or having a shoe thrown at me by a Year 10 girl, but I miss, more than anything, the conversations I had with students about books and reading, I miss helping a student find that one book that made them a reader, and I miss the camaraderie and community of the library. Nothing beats the feeling of matching young people with books that change their lives, and it’s why it’s so important that schools have well funded, properly run libraries.

British library

The other library that had a big impact on me, and still does, is the British Library in Kings Cross. I first used it when I was at university and went down to look at some of their sixteenth century sources when I was writing my dissertation, and I immediately fell in love with it. A beautiful mix of the shiny and new and the traditional and beautiful; I love their exhibitions and their gorgeous reading rooms (although I do not love the café, which is a great sadness of mine but probably saves me money). The British Library also inspired one of the most important locations in Pages & Co, the British Underlibrary, which can be accessed via a seemingly out of order lift in among some bookshelves…

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And there we have it! I’d like to say thank you so much to Anna for writing this wonderful post.

I think the only thing left to say is, if you haven’t gotten your hands on a copy of the book yet, please do, I PROMISE you will not regret it!

 

I hope you’re having the best day,
Peace and pages
Amy
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