I have just finished reading The Young Atheists Handbook by my friend Alom Shaha. The book interweaves Alom’s philosophical approach to life with his experiences as a child, an adolescent and an adult. And one of the most powerful influences in his early life, was his local library. He vividly describes how it formed a kind of portal into worlds very different from that in which he was growing up.
My wife feels the same way. As she recalls her childhood visits to the library she enters a kind of blissful reverie, and recounts how if she had understood that librarians were actually paid, she might well have chosen that as a career.
My sister and brother were both bibliophiles, and as children they worked their way through the library stock like gourmands at a never-ending buffet.
But not me. From the earliest age I remember libraries being places of fear and anxiety. Libraries were places of mysterious rules and codes which you might transgress by chance at any moment. They were places where you would be fined! In short, places it would be smart to avoid. At University I only entered the library because the single precious Commodore PET computer was kept in a small room in the basement.
I would like you to know that as an adult I have managed to overcome my anxiety and I can use libraries quite proficiently. And I generally find librarians to be extremely kind and helpful people. But I have never, ever, felt that I was welcome in a library.
This may be just me, and I may be unique in this anxiety. But I have often wondered whether anyone else had felt this way. Whether anyone else had -like me – been embarrassed to mention this in the face of the glorious tales of libraries told by the literati. Perhaps someone will let me know.