Thursday, 26 August 2010

Hallelujah for the public library

Foremost and finally, first and last, beginning and end, alpha to omega, we joined the public library. Glory Hallelujah. North Lamma Island branch. Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday. Closed for lunch.

When we handed over those application forms, we were duly stamped, computer organised, and given back five library cards to sign (six books each, two week loan, fines as advertised).

In my insanity, I broke down and cried. All those books. All 75 of them, lined up on the English language shelf at Lamma Island next to the ferry, and each and every single one, precious. I had no idea that Yogacise and Think Your Way to Beauty could have the impact they had. I hugged them to my bosom and let the tears flow from glittery eyes. I may do rousing speeches, trumpets, heavenly chorus. People, let our great wisdom of the world begin. Step 1: Close your eyes and say, 'I am beautiful'.

I don't know why North Lamma public library - any public library - has that effect. We have the internet at home. But it does. It exerts a magic power. It can bring reason into a life of madness. Even though it's just a local island library, functionally constructed in charmless citizen concrete. Resembling an electricity sub station on the outside and offering similar space on the inside. But inside! Set against all our recent struggles, it is a globe full of delight for body and mind!

Step 2: Breathe deep. For the lifelines flowing out the books I open. Worlds, ideas, places, possibilities, the familiar and the new: thoughts I never had before. I am lifted away from the walls of home, freed from electronic wire, unwrapped from daughters and husbands and heres and nows.

Then the sensual pleasure! I hear the ruffle of their soft papers, smell the dust from their fibres, see their inks and satins. I feel their touch me, handle me, turn my pages, better than sex. Step 3: Stroke your finger down, between your brow.

And if that is not enough, there is equality to be had, down at your local public library. No preferential treatment, no joining fee, no renewable monthly service contract, no advertising subscription removal clause, no pre-book ticket application process submitted with exact monies to the reference section.

A public library doesn't care who we are, rich or poor, man or woman, peasant or posh. We turn up, join, spend the time we want, weep over the Yogacise book, tell the daughter not to yell because we might rely on the goodwill of the librarian later when we have pissed him off big time, then stand in line. Like everyone else. Our books are stamped, handed back to us. The fines are all the same, so come back before the 8th with the Cat Stories to Touch Your Heart.

Then we set out with our treasure on the journey home, buying grape juice and bananas along the way, filled with the possibility of a beautiful body, a rich and peaceful mind, and the amazing thought that one day our lives might be touched by a cat called Ebony.

That is our achievement for today. Joining the public library. It's nothing in itself, and yet it's everything. It's our way out of the house with a troubled child. It's our community, our neighbours, our access to China, our way in, our way through. Here, there are books to loan for us all, for Grits, Sharks, Squirrels and Tigers. We are all better placed to start tomorrow.

You can tell I have not yet lived in China long enough to report back to you on controlled knowledge, circulating stories of news management and restricted access. I am still flushed with the possibility of Cat Stories, or Yogacise, even though I practise that without the Yoga, or the cise. Squirrel is delighted by her fairy trash, and Shark with Reef Fishes of Hong Kong. And Tiger, temporarily lifted to normality by Rowling and the rest.

So I want to say to you people in the UK, please look after my public libraries while I am not there. I value the freedom they give me. And I will want to come back to them. An open public library is the essential jigsaw piece of a sane mind.

Just look here. I should know.

4 comments:

Rachel M. said...

The best library I've ever been to is in Pittsburgh, sponsored by Andrew Carnegie's legacy. Here's a man who owned a massive steel mills business and was incredibly wealthy but with a firm commitment to local libraries. His first library opened in his hometown, Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1883 prior to moving to the US. I miss that library, it was a beautiful 6 story building with amazing architecture.

I also grew up going to the local library every 2 weeks with my family, we didn't have a TV so mom had to do something for entertainment!

Since moving to Florida in 1998 I've gotten hooked on the convenience of internet and Barnes & Nobel so I can't say I've been in a proper library for years. I do miss it though, maybe once the kids get old enough to enjoy it!

Sam said...

I give our local library lots of use, but my boys...considering at home they are often to be found reading/book browsing, it's hard to understand why, when they enter the library, they immediately start asking if I'm finished!

I'm not happy with the library, because they keep selling the books I like - that's the reason I haven't taken this lot back, just in case.;-) I might as well buy them now, the fines must be as much.

When we lived in London, our local library even opened on a Sunday - how brilliant is that? :-)

MadameSmokinGun said...

You reminded me of a book I read about John Adams (2nd US President) by the chap who wrote The Agony and the Ecstasy .... Irving Penn? Maybe... Anyway Mr Adams would hold a book, and sniff it, and delight in everything about it before reading a word if I recall, and whenever I find myself holding an old book I always think of him! I regularly have book (and everything) purges to keep the hovel from collapsing entirely - but some are kept just because they 'feel' so good.

I suppose the library is a secure sort of place to stop being sparkly in....... if that makes sense. As you said 'it' doesn't care who you are - as long as you're not flicking lighted matches around. And you no longer have to entertain members of your own family so much. Everyone can sort of drift into their own ssssshhhhhhhhhh-ness. Well, that's the fantasy I'm clinging to. The reality of arguing about the teetering pile of identical books on grasshoppers is not to be dwelt upon.

Good luck with the inspirational cats.

mamacrow said...

thats the first thing we EVER did on family holidays, whereever we went - find the library (then the catholic church, but it was definitely the library first)