Thursday, 14 June 2018

So the (library) cuts are coming

are they? Even the newly elected government has not reversed the cuts to our state library. 
That state library was my lifeline as a child. It was my safe space.
There was something called the "Children's Country Lending Service".  You registered with the library and then the librarians would choose four books for you to read and send them out. They came in brown paper parcels. They were packed in such a way that the paper could be reused to return the books with the label which was provided. 
This amazing service was provided free to any rural child who wanted to be part of it.  ME!  My brother was part of it too.
The same service provided a box of books for small rural schools to enjoy each term as well. There would be about thirty books in the box, half of them picture books and all a mixture of fiction and non-fiction.
I have no idea how many people used this service for their children. To be honest most of the rural children I knew when we were using the service wouldn't have thought to read a book unless they were made to do so in school. It just wasn't part of their life style.
But I did use that service. I would include notes to the librarians with requests for things like "any more books by Cynthia Harnett?" or "has this person written any more?" or "are there any more like this?"
The librarians knew more. They would sometimes send little notes back, "Tell me if you like this one" and "I think you might enjoy this" or "This is a new book. Tell me what you think of it."
You were not supposed to change your books as often as I did. You were supposed to wait until you returned one lot before you got the next but somehow they bent the rules for me so that I had two lots doing the rounds. 
I would pedal my tricycle down to the railway siding to pick up the precious parcels too. It was only years later that I realised they probably should have gone to the post-office-general store. I don't suppose old Mr E.... who ran the place cared much if I picked the books up myself. My brother and the boy from the bank would get theirs too. We would read each other's books too of course. They didn't read quite as much as I did but they did read a lot and it meant we  had a reasonable supply...not that it felt like that when we had read them all and were waiting for the weekly train to come through.
We went to visit the library when we were in the city. Oh the joy of it! We could choose our own books. Our parents would leave us there while they went off to do shopping and business. We never put a foot out of line in the library. If we were asked where we wanted to go it was the library. Yes, we went to the museum, the art gallery, the zoo and other places but it was the library we wanted to go and visit. I resented the time spent shopping or visiting people we didn't know.
At my paternal grandparents home there were books my grandparents would borrow for us from the local "circulating" library run by the local council in the port area not far from where they lived.  We grew to know that library too. Miss R.... will be forever carved into my memory because I would be sent alone on the bus. Grandma would phone and say I was coming. Miss R... would come and meet me at the stop just outside the door when she saw the bus arrive from her desk just inside the door.  I would choose my own books from the small children's section and wait for her to write on the cards and stamp the books.
Then Miss R.... would leave her station long enough to find someone she knew - and there was always someone - to carry me safely across the road to the bus stop to go back. The stop was not far from my grandparent's home. When Miss R saw I was on the bus she would phone my grandmother to say I was on my way.
The system never failed. I was about six years of age when I started doing that. I was never once carried beyond the stop I needed in either direction because there were conductors there to help at that time. The conductors were often regulars on the route and they knew me too.
You couldn't do that now, indeed parents and grandparents would probably be severely reprimanded for doing such a thing. But, for me, it was the difference between surviving what would otherwise have been a very lonely childhood and having a whole world of friends in the pages of books.  It was much the same for my brother.  
More people use libraries each week now than go to football matches in this sports mad country. Our local library is, at long last, being extended because it is used so much. Through all the turmoil of demolition of parts of it and the rebuilding the library has remained open. People still keep going in and out. The chess, Scrabble, bridge, board games, knitting, French and other sessions are still running even if they are a hundred metres away in the community centre for now. There are still people who shelter there on a daily basis. It's the hub of our community.
Cutting funds to libraries is something we can't afford.

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