‘I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library’ wrote Jorge Luis Borges. Me, too. A week or two ago I was in the London Library and it occurred to me that this is very nearly my favorite place on earth. Libraries have always been very special places to me. I wrote an article a few years ago on independent libraries which you can read elsewhere on my web-site. I’ve been a member of the London Library for, oh, twenty-six years? But my love of libraries goes back a lot further than that. The first library I remember visiting was in Helmsley, the little market town near Ampleforth, the village we lived in when I was a child. Every week my mother and brother and I would go in by bus and visit the library and I would choose a book. I would have been seven or eight and I was fascinated by Norse legends. Even then I was a fast reader, had soon read my book, and longed for the next one. Most of the books I actually owned had been my mother’s when she was a child and at some point I catalogued them according to a simple system. Later on at Cleveland Grammar School I became School Librarian. The library there was a refuge for a girl who wasn’t very sporty or very good at anything except English and History. It had some daring choices: I read Stan Barstow’s A KIND OF LOVING there. There have been many libraries that I’ve loved over the years: the art library at the Barber Institute in Birmingham, the British Library (old and new), Dulwich Library, where I used to come out with armfuls of Collins Crime, Cambridge University Library . . .
Bookish girls, such as I was, are sometimes asked if they want to be a librarian when they grow up. It wasn’t for me. I’m very grateful to all the librarians over years whose hard work has so much enriched my life. But in the end I’d rather be reading the books – and now and then writing one myself – than cataloguing them. And maybe that is why libraries are still for me magical places of adventure and escape.
(Thanks, Anca, for putting me onto the quotation from Jorge Luis Borges.)