Sunday, March 22, 2009

Time to go into battle to save our world of books ...........

One of the glories of our cultural heritage, Britain's libraries face an uncertain future. Many are threatened with closure, others seem more interested in yoga and coffee. Rachel Cooke argues we should fight to keep reading at the heart of our culture.

Award winning journalist Rachel Cooke (pic above)writing in The Observer, Sunday 22 March 2009, has a message for all book lovers.

A student reading in a library filled with books c. 1955 Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

Time travel: it's a cinch. A few months ago I bought two ounces of Nuttall's Mintoes from a sweet shop in Pateley Bridge, and that did it, instantly. The years fell away. Or you hear a certain song – it does not even have to be one you particularly liked; it could be Brotherhood of Man, for God's sake – and there you go: for three and a half very sweet minutes you're in long white socks and Start-rite shoes, and you can picture your parents' squat Datsun sitting on the drive, and your mother's extraordinary Delia Smith hair, glossy as a conker, and your grandmother's, too, set like a helmet so that she resembles the Queen, and all these things are momentarily in bright, glorious Technicolor, and you feel first very happy, and then very sad.
And then there's this place which, for me, is in another league altogether when it comes to instant nostalgia: Broomhill Library, Sheffield, outside which I am standing, in the rain. I gaze at it across the street and, as if by magic, I ache with longing, just as I used to in the days when a trip here was the most enjoyable thing I could possibly imagine: when books were all I wanted, when I thought of them as pieces of ripe fruit, waiting to be peeled and devoured. I have never given up being grateful for the fact that, when I became a reader, so many of these juicy things were so readily available.

The 1970s were a great time for children's books, an era when the sight of a puffin on a spine was to children what a Michelin star on a menu is now to a certain kind of foodie. If Kaye Webb, the Puffin editor, was publishing a book, it was good to go, and best get it into your school bag sharpish. What's more, they could all be found here, for free.
Those writers! How their lovely, elegant names still trip off the tongue... Leon Garfield, Nina Bawden, Diana Wynne Jones, Alan Garner, Rosemary Sutcliff. And when you felt like slumming it, well, even the easy reads were ace. For me, slumming it meant horses (obviously… I lived in Sheffield; I'd never actually ridden one).
I loved the Follyfoot books by Monica Dickens, which were set in a rest home for old nags. The first ­Follyfoot book I ever read, I picked up here one Saturday morning, and I am willing to bet that I was a quarter of the way through it before the 2p-a-ride socialist bus had even dropped me home.

Read the rest of Rachel Cooke's impassioned plea to save our libraries here.


Anonymous said...

A fascinating article in its entirety.

I was interested to know what would happen if I clicked on one of the links you had - specifically the one for Kaye Webb - and it took me to the rather short Wikipedia entry ('stub' is right!).

A much more satisfactory - and satisfying - article is to be found in the Oxford National Dictionary of Biography, to which members of many public libraries have online access. If your library website has a 'digital library' section that includes the dictionary, you need only provide your membership details and hey! presto.

This may seem like a contradiction of Ms Cooke's assertion that public libraries are primarily places of books, but the aforementioned dictionary is, first of all, a book. It is simply made more accessible by being available in a searchable electronic format as well as in print.


Meytal Radzinski said...

Just this opening is enough to make me feel depressed... I'm lucky enough that libraries for me an entirely non-nostalgic part of life but rather an essential... It is nonetheless troubling that libraries currently face a number of serious financial difficulties.

Anonymous said...

And so, Claire?

Cheers n/n Keri

Anonymous said...

and so keri?

Anonymous said...

Well, either Keri was after the goss or was saying 'so what', but assuming it's the former...

the ODNB (I put the National in the wrong place before) entry on Kaye Webb is, of course, copyright, so I shan't paste it here. But there's a lovely pic, plus assorted info such as:
- her school English teacher sent a poem by her to Walter de la Mare
- at age 15, she replied to children's letters for the Mickey Mouse Weekly
- during the war she was an air-raid warden, canteen worker, ambulance driver and member of the Fleet St women's rifle brigade - oh, while producing a magazine
- when she died her wealth was £301,496 (the ODNB tells us such things).