I LOVED going to the library when I was a child.
Reading was my favourite pastime and I remember being thrilled every time I left the library with a new pile of books to read, excited to immerse myself in the worlds that they were going to open up to me.
A mobile library would visit us at home too. I have a vivid memory of waiting by the side of the road with my grandfather, both of us impatient for the van full of books to arrive. We’d climb inside together and eagerly browse the shelves, my grandfather looking for detective novels and me looking for anything that might appeal to my childish tastes.
I still love libraries. I think it’s amazing how they provide us with books for free.
I especially love how they have come to serve as a social space for communities. Everyone is welcome in the library.
It doesn’t matter if you want to sit down and read the daily paper, if you want to do your homework in peace and quiet, or if you want to attend any of the events that now take place in many libraries such as readings and book clubs.
We have never needed our community spaces more than we do today. For the past year, we have been cut off from our communities and the doors of our public spaces have been closed.
Even before the pandemic, many of those doors had closed on a permanent basis.
Take pubs for example. Our pubs are places where we go to meet our friends, colleagues, and wider community to catch up on each other’s lives and local affairs (there’s a reason why the English call them ‘locals’).
Outside of bustling city centres, lots of pubs have shut in recent years.
There was a social reason why people used to go to mass. It gave them an opportunity to meet others and to have a chat.
The churches are still closed here in Ireland but even before Covid-19 struck, not many of us attended mass any more.
There were good reasons for this, but the drawback was that we lost a space that brought the community together.
I don’t know about you but one of the things I have missed most in the past year is my community. A community isn’t the same thing as family or friends. I’m still in touch with them, although we have spent precious little time together in the past 12 months.
No, a community consists of neighbours and people you run into while you’re out shopping, or having a drink in the pub, or attending a local event.
People that you aren’t friendly enough with to arrange to meet them but fine people nevertheless, who add texture and colour to your life through your occasional meetings.
Our worlds have become smaller in the past year and I’m longing for the day when they once again open up wide. We will need our community spaces then.
We will be thankful for the pubs, the libraries, and the other public spaces that are available to us.
I read recently that 800 or so libraries had closed in Britain in the past ten years because of financial cutbacks. This made me sad.
A library is such an important space in any community because it is one of the few places that welcomes everyone.
It doesn’t matter if you are old or young, or if you have money or not. You can visit the library, free of charge, and know that it’s a place for you.
We don’t have many spaces like this left to us and we should do our best to protect those that remain.
After the year we have all been through, a year in which many of us were lonely, so many people are looking forward to reaching out and spending time in their local community once more.
They will be looking for spaces in which they can do so.
Long live our libraries.