Some of my fondest childhood memories were made in and around my local library. The building happened to be next to the local park, so a visit to the library also meant a whizz around the merry-go-round and many cycles up the ladder and down the slide. But for me, browsing the fiction shelf and choosing a book was the best part of the outing.
Reading has been my greatest pleasure from the moment I learned how to do it.
Not quite free
Forty-odd years later, it still is. But sadly, in South Africa, libraries continue to be miserably underfunded and with the expensive cost of new books, you’re unlikely to find the very latest ones on the shelves, the ones that capture the zeitgeist of a nation.
Even though I found myself joining book clubs to share the latest novels or buying ebooks to mitigate the prohibitive cost of new books, I would still frequent my local libraries. More especially for my kids. So that they could experience the joy of locating their chosen book on the shelf, know the value of the librarian’s job, or simply just breathe in the scent of all those many books and know that a world awaited them – at no cost – in each one.
A library is a uniquely special place, one that every child should know intimately; the starting block of their lifelong learning journey.
Having recently relocated to Ireland, I’m amazed at what’s available to our family through our local library. Yes, the latest books are on the shelves for both children and adults, but there is also an audio- and e-book lending library, apps to keep track of our loans, and a self-service kiosk for checking books in and out, open till 10 pm when the librarians have long gone home.
And then, of course, there are the events (limited with Covid of course), but online like all the others – Zoom lectures and children’s coding courses, and for those isolating at home, a housebound service – the library arranges a book delivery to your door.
It shows what’s possible when a library is well-funded by government, when literacy and reading are prioritised, when a long lens is used and an investment is made in the future, right now.
Using the long lens, more money means more books; more well-trained staff who not only know how to run a library effectively but who know how to recommend books and learning paths for all sectors of the society. More money means more literate, intelligent, and creative members of society for the future. Indeed, we will need those people in the future, to fix the world’s problems, which seem to be growing more pressing by the minute.
Hitting that sweet spot
This summer as I’ve tried to keep the kids entertained in our new home, without the benefit of local knowledge or a well-established community, our local library has been our lighthouse and I make sure to take the kids every week.
Of course, it does help that our new library is located right next door to Finlay’s ice cream parlour!
Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor
Internationally qualified writer and editor with 15 years’ publishing experience. Currently reading lots of books and navigating the reality of uprooting a family and relocating during a pandemic.
Email me: melissa (dot) fagan (at) mfedit (dot) com
Relocating is hard. While the library continues to be my beacon of hope, I’d love to connect with like-minded bookish people in Ireland and beyond. Feel free to drop me an email or follow me on Instagram @lissilox_loves.