The V Series; What are the Vs of Yorkshire today?

Jenny Beech reading at the LS13 launch in June 2013. Photo by Steve Evans.

Jenny Beech reading at the LS13 launch in June 2013.
Photo by Steve Evans.

Libraries; Public V Private, by Jenny Beech

Jenny Beech is one of the LS13 anthology top 20 writers, and she begins her Tony Harrison-inspired V series with the subject of libraries.

Hypothetically speaking, if an objective third party had seen my room at the age of fifteen, with its tottering wall of bookshelves made from a mixture of scrap plywood, cardboard boxes and old shelves sawn in half to wedge beneath their more precarious counterparts, they might correctly presume that I liked books. Or perhaps ‘liked’ is too light a term; pored over, fed from, ravenously devoured, might be more suitable phrases. This said however, I have never been a huge fan of libraries.

I’m all for presenting good literature to the masses but that was half of the problem. With very few exceptions, the public libraries in my local area did not contain what I considered to be ‘good literature’, when I was growing up. Upon entering a library I would immediately make a beeline for the children’s section (my literary polestar) but find myself surrounded by neglected paperbacks and bestsellers or the second halves of series. There were the summer reading challenges; I can’t remember any of the books I read but I received a medal made out of cardboard which made it all seem worthwhile to my six-year-old self.

The problem was that people like me, with a much better selection at home, didn’t bother with the library and those who were not avid readers certainly weren’t tempted by Harry Potter or the latest Biff and Chip. The problem didn’t improve when my college library insisted on blacklisting me from the library for failing to return a book after what felt like a very short amount of time.

The same doubts of public libraries resurfaced the other day when I returned a pile of books to the Beeston Library to find that I had been charged thirty pounds. I’m not one for dramatic use of capitals but THIRTY POUNDS. I’m assuming that people like me are the reason that public libraries are still around as I could have bought the books for that amount of money.

The Leeds Library. Photo by theguardian.com

The Leeds Library.
Photo by theguardian.com

On the other hand, during the last year in Leeds, I was introduced to The Leeds Library, which fast became my sanctuary for a mere twenty five pounds for twelve months (interestingly cheaper than my charge from the public library…). On attending the annual Sherry reception there last Christmas, I found myself in a room full of corduroy, knit-wear, thousands of books that very few people would ever read and I was the youngest there by at least thirty years. It felt achingly homely, particularly as I was new to the city. I’ve managed to visit once or twice a week for the past year and of course, I have never been charged for late returns.

That said, I do tolerate libraries, bordering on liking them. I will frequent a library in passing, much as I would walk into Waterstones when on a high street; not because I like the place but because the place contains books. I suppose the conclusion would be that libraries aren’t for absent-minded book-lovers who have far too many books to be getting on with, but I know plenty of people who do love libraries. Unlike me, they tend to be the sorts of people who wear watches and always know what the date is, but they are book-lovers all the same. I know others without a home computer that rely on the library for benefit forms, and still others who need the resources in order to help their children to learn to read.

I’ll be sticking to my private libraries, for the sake of my bank balance as much as anything; but somewhat grudgingly, I know that public libraries have a relevant place and I would be complaining far more if they were no longer in existence.

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