One of my other writing jobs is in fiction, but given that fiction enjoys more than its fair share of the publicity attached to reading, #WorldBookDay seems a good moment to mention all the other reading and the resources which make us, teach us, help us grow, protect us.
There’s so much of the world, and law, and life skills to read, that to fulfil all our needs, we do need a library. This is tricky for Renter Nomads, as we all know, but this is where public libraries come in.
Some examples of resources which protect our interests, in Dewey Decimal order:
340 Law, including:
344 Employment Law, Housing Rights
346 Family Law
600 Useful Arts, including:
640 Domestic Economy (guides to renting, accounts, AND
648 Decluttering and Housekeeping – ha!)
Want a cookbook without shelling out for a new one, or without buying one from a charity shop (which may be cheaper than new, but still doesn’t make it any less cluttersome in your kitchen)? That will be under Dewey Decimal 641.
Want to research different holiday destinations without buying a million guidebooks (again, clutter!)? Dewey Decimal 912 – Maps, Dewey Decimal 915 – Travel guides.
I’ve written before about the value for a Renter Nomad in having a space outside of an insecure, transient, unhomely home. A library building itself offers a home away from home for anyone who can’t be at home during the day, for reasons ranging to bad living conditions to loneliness to simple distance (for example, a split-shift worker or someone with multiple jobs, unable to afford to rent closer to work than the suburbs, and unable to afford to go home in between shifts/jobs, either).
Local and central government have rightly recognised libraries as a means of “delivering” vital services: spreading the word about health checks, “meet your local police” surgeries, transport consultations, computer access and computer courses (which in turn make it possible for more people to use the digital services which are cheaper for government).
Amid these necessities, there’s still pleasure. Books for all, including in audio and large print formats. Sometimes there is a café, but even if not, there are free newspapers and often free wi-fi, not to mention knitting groups, book groups, local history groups and children’s groups. My children grew up on “Bounce and Rhyme” sessions at our various local libraries.
Libraries, with their both necessary and pleasurable books, are also centres of gravity. Contrast what happens when you add a library, or take one away. These are two London boroughs.
In Orpington, in 2011, the library was moved from Priory Gardens to the other end of the High Street (an area which gets high foot-fall anyway, given that the roundabout leads off to the train station). Five years later, despite the legacy of formal gardens and a playground, the Bromley Museum left behind by the library has been closed, its collections set to be moved to Bromley Central Library without a curator, and the 700 year-old Priory building set for sale.
By contrast, in Lewisham, Manor House Library re-opened in the Grade II listed building in 2009. Manor House Gardens had had a café beforehand, but the presence of the library (and the Children’s Centre) guaranteed that the park would remain a centre of gravity, in the way the Priory Gardens have not. The playground is always busy, tennis and other sports courts are in use, the dog area is busy…. The variety of advertising of local groups and services in the café confirms the area’s pull, even attracting the affluent families of Blackheath.
You will notice that many of the things I have mentioned in this article are not books. Am I treating World Book Day as some kind of gimmick?
No. These things are human relations, legal interests, physical comforts. These benefits gather around books, study and discussion. When I was studying 19th/20th century Russian history, my lecturer laid stress on the point that literacy is essential for an industrial society – at the most basic level, equipment manuals are written, and literate people are needed to operate machinery – but once people learn to read, it is very difficult to restrict what else they find out, and what rights they may claim.
Enjoy World Book Day with your own books, with the Book Tokens from your children’s school…. and also at a library, which opens doors far heavier than a book cover!