Library lessons

July 24, 2013 § 6 Comments

I took my younger daughter to the library this weekend for a long overdue visit. In fact, one of the things I berate myself for often as a mother, is that we don’t go to the library more often.

I love libraries – especially huge university libraries with many floors where I feel more intelligent just by soaking up the atmosphere. I love the smell of libraries, the slight fustiness. I love running my hands over the spines of the books and discovering all the many things that people like to write about. I love the idea of all of those words being held in one place.

But I also love libraries for the lessons they carry. Yes, there are lessons about books and words and reading, and all of those are good. But it occurred to me on Saturday that libraries also have life lessons to teach us – here are five that occurred to me:

#1. The best things in life really can be free – In a world where we seem to pay for every little thing (or at least that’s how it seems to me) it’s a wonderful thing to find a service like a library, which is free of charge. For some minor form-filling-in and photostatting to prove you’re a resident, you have access to all of those books, great and small, and you can take them out as often as you like. For someone like me, who champions reading at every turn, and who would always rather be curled up with a book, that’s pretty darn cool.

#2. Meet your deadlines or risk your reputation – As the librarian re-registered us on the library’s computer system this weekend, I noted that the category we fall into is ‘delinquent’. Oops. Yes, it’s true. I am the world’s worst returner of library books. I am always, always late and often severely so. I did suggest to the librarian that ‘fundraiser’ might be a better moniker, as we’ve paid quite a lot of money in fines over the years, but he said that option didn’t exist.

#3. Sharing is caring – You really don’t have to own everything you enjoy. We live in an age of conspicuous consumerism. When things break, often we replace them instead of repairing them. Or people drown under the clutter they’ve bought and simply hoarded – it’s sheer madness. A library is a place where you can enjoy something without owning it, and share it with a larger community. I think we’d do well to apply this principle in other areas of our lives.

#4. Delayed gratification can be very satisfying – Conspicuous consumerism is fed by our culture of instant gratification. Is that Harry Potter book you queued all night for really any better than the same book bought a week or two later? No, of course it isn’t. Compare that with the experience of waiting for a book to come into the library because someone else is reading it. You learn a little patience; you learn a little selflessness, and it when it arrives, it’s such a thrill! (Humour me. I’m easily thrilled.)

#5. Joy can be found in something that’s slightly dog-eared – One of my prized possessions is a very dilapidated copy of Inscapes, a poetry anthology edited by Robin Malan. It was our anthology for high school, and I found this one at a second-hand book sale. It’s tatty, and it’s filled with someone else’s pencilled notes, in a really bad handwriting, but I love it because it’s been loved and used. And the poems aren’t any less lovely for all the markings on the page – they’re the same poems, in the same collection, and they still hold the same value as they would in a brand new book.

Libraries aren’t valued the way they once were, and I think it’s a tragedy. Because they’re not just about books. And I’m sure there are many more lessons to learn – if you think of any, I’d love to hear them.


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§ 6 Responses to Library lessons

  • Nicola says:

    My favourite place to do homework was the research section in the Linton Grange Library. I’d walk there from school and sit for hours just soaking up the atmosphere. I lament the fact that school projects are now done from the internet instead of from the “Encyclopedia Brittanica” or “World Book”. Children have no idea about card catalogues, alphabetising or the Dewey Decimal System. Is this a better world? No! Talk about instant gratification, what about laziness? The quest for knowledge should require just a little more effort than merely typing “Wikipedia” into your browser.


  • Gently thought-provoking, as always. Me like. Not sure that I’m comfortable having publicly-outed ‘delinquent’ friends, though. 😉
    Just realised I haven’t been into a public library since I was a schoolkid. In contrast to thee, I deal very comfortably with a book on my Galaxy Note ‘phablet’. I’m not stuck on the dead-tree kind as the medium of delivery. Carpal tunnel syndrome makes Kindles, tablets and phones a less painful reading option. Particularly when it comes to weighty tomes. As my new authorised biog of Maggie Thatcher, most certainly is.


  • Glad to hear you are also a delinquent. I don’t know why it is so hard to remember to return the books. Something I have noticed is that our libraries are no longer silent. We were brought up to tiptoe around and whisper so as not to disturb the books. The culture has changed and now the children chatter away and I quite like the buzz.


  • Balvah says:

    I review the new book selection weekly at my local library and devour the works of every brilliant writer I find. I can remember back to when my Dad told us we weren’t going to have a TV so go to the library and get your card. It’s probably one of the best things he ever did for me. Great post.


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