One of my earliest memories is of going to the Library. The Librarians then were very strict and wouldn’t allow you in until they had checked that your hands were clean. I didn’t care. I just wanted to get in amongst those books and read and read and read. This Library has now closed and a new one built in its place. The new one is fine but it doesn’t smell of floor polish, or lines of wooden shelves and, most importantly, it doesn’t smell of books.
Every library I’ve ever visited is clear in my memory but I especially remember the New York Library; a) because it was so beautiful, it took my breath away and b) because, in the book sale there, I bought two volumes which have taken their place on my shelves of best-loved books.
One book was ‘Letters of Arnold Bennett – Volume 2 – 1889-1915’ and the other was ‘Letters of Arnold Bennett – Volume 3 – 1916-1931.’ Bennett was a writer I really admired and still do.
I also love the stamped inscription on the bottom of the books. ‘The New York Public Library – The Branch Libraries,’ and inside, ‘Withdrawn, for free use in City Cultural and Welfare Institutions. May be sold for the benefit of the New York Public Library only.’ Long live New York Public Library.
Then there was the one in the city of Dundee, Scotland. A very small Public Library that was so modest, it hardly took up any room at all but with the same magic inside. That Library has gone, as well, but I still walk into it in my mind.
Libraries always seemed to require that you filled in forms and produced a copy of your Birth Certificate before they’d let you have a book. I’d have supplied them with my blood group, shoe size and almost anything else just to get inside and pick up a book, a book, a book, a book.
MY LIBRARY HOME
When they tell me to ‘Attach Birth Certificate here,’
I ask them which one they mean.
The first one that simply affirms I have been born,
Or the real one, where under ‘Place of Birth,’
I have written ‘Library.’
For it was amongst these book-lined shelves
I was born to an awareness and understanding
Of what men and women, girls and boys get up to,
Plus all those other things we’re told that flesh is heir to.
I took down those books, held them, read them
And loved them so much, I hugged them.
I read about everything.
Love and hate, life and death, war and peace,
Joy and sorrow, crime and punishment.
I read about mountains, valleys, deserts, cities and jungles,
And how man was just a pinprick of light
In a vast darkness.
Or, maybe, a pinprick of darkness
In an ocean of light.
I learnt about creatures that walk, talk, crawl, creep, swim and fly
And how a sudden, surprising spark of affection
Can be a connection between them and us,
Us and them.
Which was why, under ‘Nationality’ where it said,
‘Tick any one of the countries that follow from A to Z,’
I ticked them all instead.
For I am every colour and race, creed, dogma and faith.
Is that hard?
Not when you’ve got a Library card.
So that’s my real home, for me and generations before me,
For together we speak for all those yet to come,
Who need us to succour them, love them, encourage them,
build them and fill them, and shine ‘em up,
As they find their place in their Library home.
copyright © GWEN GRANT