Why We Need to Fund Libraries 3/3


If you haven’t visited a library in years, you might think nobody goes to libraries any more. Well, you’re wrong. In the time it takes to read this entire sentence, 40 people have visited a library in the UK.

You might not need a library today, or tomorrow, or for years. But that doesn’t mean you don’t want one in your community. Because like a hospital, or a second bridge over the Bristol Channel to Wales, or the police – one day you might need it. And when you do, just like you’d need those other things, you’ll really, really need a library. Someone else in your community needs one like that today. 

Libraries are often used by people who are in transition from one thing to another. People who are in between being born and going to school use the library for stimulation and to begin to understand book-based culture for the world of learning. Older children, learning to work independently, use the library for help finding valid references for essays. People looking for new courses or careers use the resources of the library. People who are in a new town, finding out more about their past, recovering from illness, spending hours alone in old age…all these people regularly use the library.

Where else can you go that costs nothing and always welcomes you? Where you can not only be entertained and distracted from what ever problems you are facing, but also get reliable information on solving those problems?  I said in a previous post that a library is the intellectual hub of a community – sometimes people very much need the access to knowledge it contains. And more than that, they need to be physically inside a place that celebrates and collects the fruits of human struggle – they need the companionship that place brings to their own situation. Because a library is also a place personal difficulties are recognised and normalised.

But that’s not to say that libraries are only warm and fluffy. They’re also a good investment. Libraries pay great finaincial dividends. The young people using the wifi and quiet they can’t get at home will get better exam results. People in need will recover from their problems more quickly and contribute once more to the economy. Companies thinking about locating in the area look for libraries as a marker of the quality of potential employees. Children with access to books in the home attain much better in school than children without. In pounds and pence, as well as in hearts and minds, a library has a value that is nearly impossible to overestimate.

That’s why we need to fund libraries.

A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.

Andrew Carnegie




Reading for Writers


A little while ago, I talked about how revealing it is to write. It’s true…you can’t hide when you are writing. What and how well you think, what and how well you feel – it’s all there, all over the pages. 

And what’s also visible is how much and what you’ve read.

Every author I know would rather read than breathe, if they were only given a choice. I read, I recently told a third year class, about a novel a day, or two or three days. And that’s with my busy life as a writer, teacher and mother. When I was their age, I usually read one in the morning before classes and one in the evening. They looked at me as though I’d suddenly sprouted antennae. 

I read very quickly, but I have excellent retention. Sometimes I forget the name of the author, or the title of the book, but I remember the characters, the setting, the plot and whole segments of text.

And that latter bit is very important. Every time we read, we are unconsciously absorbing technique. We see how the author handles the technical challenges of fiction. We’re not only enjoying the story and the beauty of the writing…we’re building a library of technique. 

Some of my undergraduate students worry about writing too much like the authors they read. In fact, some of them use it as an excuse not to read. But the answer to that is to read more, not less.

The more widely you read, the more and different approaches to the technical challenges of writing fiction you absorb. How Jane Austen uses punctuation is much different to how William Burroughs uses punctuation and you never know when the perfect solution to where you put that tricky comma will come from one or the other. 

But of course the real value of reading widely comes from that connection between reading fiction and empathy. The more you read, the more empathy you can feel about different kinds of people. Young women, pressured to marry if they are to avoid poverty, for example. Or a junky trying to survive in a menacing and unknowable world. 

And that means the you that is revealed in your writing is a better you, with every book you read.