WHY WE STILL NEED LIBRARIANS
A few years ago I went up to the Wirral (North West England just above Wales) for the first time to speak to students at the ‘Wirral Paperback of the Year’ hustings in Bebington. Met Matt Dickinson, Ali Lewis and John Mayhew (who is very amusing) fellow writers up for the award. It was a nice surprise to go to a part of England I had never been to and discover just how pretty and prosperous it was. Port Sunlight was just around the corner, beavering away making Dove soap and Tresémme shampoo and I seem to recall driving past the Vauxhall Astra factory at some point. Residents assure me it had the highest horse to person ratio in the UK and I can believe it. Amid all the gloom we endlessly read about austerity Britain, it is pleasant to find somewhere so quaint yet thriving – yep I seem to recall a Waitrose too.
Next stop was Leeds for the Leeds Book Awards and beyond that Shoreham on Sea for the Amazing Book awards in July. It was nice to win at least one (The Wirral), but to be honest it is just great to be shortlisted. None of this would happen without the effort of librarians who take their jobs very seriously at schools, making students aware of what is out there and encouraging them to experiment. It is worrying to think that schools are cutting back on libraries and the investment in them.
The rational I suppose is that every kid has access to computers, smart phones, iPads etc and they don’t read anymore. It just isn’t true though. Kids are reading and engaging and I know one boy came up to me (Leon) and said he didn’t used to read at all but suddenly discovered books and now can’t get enough of them. Reading fiction stimulates a mind in a different way to gaming or TV. To be honest I can barely remember anything in detail I ever watched on TV, but books somehow imprint themselves on your mind more effectively. Doesn’t matter what you read so much as how you read I think. Every kid is different. Some seek thrills or scares, other seek answers or emotional engagement or knowledge. Seeing them respond to Ali Lewis and her story of life in the outback on a cattle farm the size of Somerset was interesting to say the least. And witnessing the queues for Mr Mayhew's Demonology books makes one realise where the real money is! Matt Dickinson impressed us with images of climbing Everest and it's kind of hard to beat that. Kids will embrace all kinds of books - they are on a voyage of discovery. The Librarians in schools in particular are the captains of this ship and can lead them all to unexpected shores.
I used to haunt the school library when I was a kid. Might have started off with Captain W E Johns of course and read a few ‘Five Go Mad in Dorset ’ stories but I quickly gravitated to Philip K Dick and all those wonderful Gollanz yellow jacket sci-fi novels. (Covers didn’t matter then). For me it was the future that mattered, which is kind of ironic considering I didn’t think I’d ever have one. I was at school in St Hugh’s in Woodhall Spa, where one field over from the sports field lay a rocket range and just a few miles away lay Coningsby RAF where they kept (at that time) Vulcan bombers ready to be armed with atomic bombs. Frequently lessons would stop as they flew low over the school and drowned out anything the teachers were saying.
I was convinced the world would end by the time I was 17 in some great nuclear explosion. Philip K Dick kept me well primed for such a thing (I didn’t know he was a paranoid delusional at that time) and consequently I never really took education too seriously. Career? Not going to need one. Exams? Who cares? I suspect I learned a little French, definitely no Latin, certainly no Maths. My father would despair reading my school reports. I used to fight for bottom in Math and anything science related and he branded me a failure. Funny he never noticed I came top in English and History and Geography. For him Math was all. The reports wouldn’t count the ‘soft’ subjects either as important. I wonder how many other kids suffered the same fate. Luckily the librarian took pity on me and made sure there was plenty of fiction in there to read and she'd put aside books she thought I might like. Slaughterhouse Five, The Outsiders, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Man in the High Castle. All made a great impression on a young mind. Still do.
I don’t know exactly when I decided the world wasn’t going to end in a big bang. There must have been some kind of intervention. By fifteen I had discovered Albert Camus and lots of foreign writers like Gunter Grass who started me off in a new direction. Camus was bleak but he showed the importance of character in a story. I found a Belgian writing exciting thrillers set in French Africa and now I didn’t want the world to end at all. I wanted to travel and experience new places and well become a writer. I had a career sitting in my hands all this time and never knew.
And the great thing of it was, you could earn money with words any time you wanted. Copywriter in advertising, journalism, screenwriting or radio drama, teacher, I did them all. What I wanted to know was – how come no one ever mentioned this at school. They probably still don’t.
I kind of hope libraries still exist in schools in ten years time. Kids need guidance. I don’t know about you, but if I pop into a bookshop I find it overwhelming. Having recommendations from booksellers or librarians can be a real help. True we can get the same advice from book bloggers (Thanks for your support Evie Seo) and I guess that is the trend, but I’m old fashioned and I like to have a real time conversation with someone in person who has read something and feels passionate enough about it to recommend it.
So here’s to Librarians. Long may they exist. Support your local library.
© Sam Hawksmoor 2017
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