The library of my childhood was a Gothic Renaissance mansion, designed in 1856 by Sir George Gilbert-Scott, the genius who designed the Albert Memorial in London. As a small child, I didn’t know this, but I loved the painted ceilings, particularly the starry sky, and I loved to run my fingers along the intricate marble fireplaces. It was a many-roomed house with heavy carved doors and close corridors. There was a whole room for the children’s section; I’m sure I read almost every title from those packed, colourful shelves. I was often unwell as a child, and those shelves provided a significant proportion of my education. It also gave me joy, escape and a safe place to be.
We visited weekly, at least, choosing books to read every night at bedtime. As well as providing the reading list of my youth, they provided my favourite hobby: library club. At library club, I was allowed to play at being a librarian. The real librarians, with their infinite knowledge and patience, took us behind the scenes, taught us to repair old books, stamp and issue titles, and gave me a pretty strong grasp of the Dewey Decimal System, that is, for an eight year old.
The secret world of the library fascinated and delighted me; one of the happiest moments of my childhood was getting my young librarian certificate.
Few places have had such a profound effect on my life. A couple of years ago, it fell into disrepair and closed its doors forever. I returned for one final visit to say goodbye. It broke my heart a little.
The town has a new library now: it’s well-resourced, central and generally excellent. Yet, sometimes, I still miss my first library.
What was your first library like? I’d love to know! Share your memories in the comments below.
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