Wednesday, May 27

A Quiller Life in Libraries

Twenty years ago I got my first library card. I was so small I didn't even come up to the desk, but I remember looking up as I was handed my own personal pass to a world of books. That little library branch is still my local today, and I'm amazed by how much it has shrunk over the years!

Even though I'm still shorter than Wolverine, I've shot up in a world that has stayed more or less the same. Now, I watch as little kids come into the library to borrow books, standing before that same desk I did all those years ago, to have their hand stamped by the librarian. While I can see how important this little library is, it is all too apparent to me that there is no guarantee it will still be around in another twenty years.

Libraries have been a big part of my journey as a reader, particularly school libraries. I've lived in various places throughout my life, and a couple of those have not had English as a primary language, so the libraries of the schools I attended (which were British or International schools) were the principal place to find new books to read. I remember going to the library in my lunch breaks and becoming lost in 'Where's Wally? The Wonder Book,' and after our teacher read us 'Max Leaves Home' by Adam Whitmore, I just had to go to the library and read the rest of the books, to see if Max the Manx cat ever found his missing tail.

School libraries are also where I discovered a lot of books and authors that would open up new worlds to me. I read 'Alanna: The First Adventure' by Tamora Pierce and 'Monster' by Walter Dean Myers. I read a book about a girl who felt alienated and stopped speaking, a book about a blind boy who dealt with the prejudice of his classmates, and a book about a girl who lost a limb when she stepped on a landmine. I can't remember the titles or authors of these books, but there are moments from them that are still so vivid in my mind.

In later years, school libraries also helped me to escape and reignite my passion for reading. In 2008 I read 50 books, most of which I had borrowed from my school library. This was the year that proved to be the springboard of my reading journey to this day. My 18th birthday present to myself was my adult library card, which I still have almost seven years later.

Although libraries have had a large impact on my life, I'll admit we've had an on again/off again relationship. For nearly the past four years I lived in New York City, where I hardly ever visited the library, despite having a branch only two streets away from my apartment. That's right...I spent my time in Manhattan snubbing Patience and Fortitude. This might seem perplexing, because I was enamoured with books. I blogged, I attended Book Expo America, and I read a great deal...but the library was a stranger to me. I borrowed more ebooks from the library than I ever did physical books.

Why is this? Well, casting aside my horrific tendency to never finish books from the library in time and thus accumulate a lot of fees, buying books was just too tempting. Books in the US are extremely cheap in comparison to New Zealand. It is also much easier to find titles (particularly new releases) in stores. Of course, borrowing books from the library doesn't cost a dime (unless you're accumulating all those fees...) but I was drawn to these shiny new books like a magnet.

Now I'm back in New Zealand, where bookstores mainly stock best-sellers. Finding a specific title is a nightmare, and looking at the price will threaten to make your heart stop. However, my library will often have books that will never make it to bookstores, and the relatively small population of my city (NYC has almost twice as many people living in it than in my entire country) means that books I want will often be available. If they aren't, I can always hit up a different library branch, or request books to be ordered in.

I love libraries. They open up so many possibilities, and I know I wouldn't be the reader I am today without them. About two months ago I started to get into comic books, and if I'd had to buy all the titles I’ve borrowed (even at American prices) I would be broke. Thanks to my library, as long as I keep an eye on those pesky due dates, that shouldn't be a reality.

Twenty years later and a library card is still one of the most valuable things I own. Let me know whether you're an avid library goer and if libraries have influenced your journey as a reader.


Paperback Princess said...

Keri I really enjoyed this post as I could have written this post myself. I absolutely love libraries and I am lucky to be located in an area where two council areas coincide so I can actually attend two sets of libraries, and I am actually walking distance (less than half hour) to 3 libraries, albeit one is quite small.

I love libraries and I will most likely do a post honouring my local libraries soon, through BEA.

Lory@Emerald City Book Review said...

I could never have afforded to buy all the books I've read because of the library! So grateful for their continued existence.

Keri Payton said...

Plus, when you buy books off the bat, you never know what you're paying for. Whereas you can sample so many different things from the library, without spending money on a book that may turn out to be terrible.

Keri Payton said...

That's so cool! Does two different council areas mean that you need two different library cards?

Ayanami Faerudo said...

My elementary and high school libraries were all dedicated to school books, particularly for the use of those who can't afford to buy school books of their own. The same goes for college but the College of Arts and Letters & College of Education have a selection of fiction books. Sadly, YA is a rarity. I still love going to them though even if I need to buy the books I wanted for myself.

Liviania said...

I've definitely been making an effort to use my library more. (And I love the bulletin boards showing things happening in the community.) I do love checking out ebooks from the library. So convenient, and no late fees!

thetangledwebweweave said...

I totally agree about a library card being one of my most valued possessions. Both my boys got them when they were about a week old and they both love the library too,long may it continue!

rhoda_strupag said...

This is such a lovely post, I really enjoyed it. There was a time in my life where I absolutely couldn't afford to buy books but I wanted to read so much! It was the local library van that kept me sane. It was also lovely to see the local kids clamber in after school so that they could choose a book for the week. It just felt really special. x

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