When I was far younger than I am now...okay, when I was in high school, it was massively uncool to be a book geek. It probably still is now, but the beauty of age and experience is that as you get older you generally couldn't give less of a flying eff what others think of what you choose to do with your spare time.
Today's blog is an ode to libraries. I haven't stepped in one in a few months, because I confess that I tend to buy most of my books. The reason is that unless it's a volume I've been dying to get my hot little hands on for a while, I tend to put off reading them till I have free time. And libraries don't look kindly upon readers who neglect to return books in a timely fashion. That's why library fines were invented.
But, as a kid, then a geeky teenager, with far more limited funds than I have now, libraries were my happy place. I would spend hours tucked into a corner, reading and reading till my eyes got bleary, then toddle home with stacks of novels so high I could barely fit them into my backpack.
I'm not sure if the same rules still apply, but the limit to the number of books you could borrow within a specific period was about 26. I would get almost that many out nearly every time, devour them within a couple of weeks (goodness knows how I fitted that in with school, homework and TV watching to do), then back to the library I would stagger - on the bus, to get out the next load of tomes to feed my addiction.
So yeah, I wasn't exactly the coolest person around the block to know. And I'm surprised my eyesight isn't worse than what it is now. If vision is linked to how much reading one has done in a lifetime, then by rights I should almost be legally blind.
Back to libraries. What I love about them is that it's a home for everyone. There were always parents and kids, of course, taking advantage of the free entertainment in the form of books, magazines, CDs, DVDs and Storytime. One or two homeless-looking people would hang around. Usually it was easy to avoid them by the gentle perfume of days-old sweat and stale urine wafting from their bodies.
Then there were the students in school uniforms, either other book geeks or panicking over last-minute research for overdue homework...a taste of uni life for those who went on to some form of tertiary education, old people, overweight and underweight, short, tall, all colours and creeds. Libraries are often like their own mini-United Nations.
There would inevitably be the creeps. The shady old men in long coats and shifty eyes, almost cartoonish in their cheesiness, who would hang around to drool lecherously over young girls. So yes, while I'm nostalgic over many aspects of libraries, I'm also well aware of its seedy underbelly - which I think in some ways only adds character. The Low Men In Yellow Coats can go though.
I suppose what is making me reminisce so fondly about libraries is because fewer and fewer people appear to be using them. It would seem that libraries are going the way of the physical bookstore and as much as I mourn the almost inexorable disappearance of bookstores, not having libraries, to me, would be the biggest tragedy of all for readers.
They were what triggered in me a love for books. A place to seek refuge from the outside world during cold, rainy winter days, somewhere to lose myself for a while when life got a little too dark, where I discovered some of my now all-time favourite authors, a real sanctuary, not just for bibliophiles but for anyone who has ever needed to find textbooks, obscure manuscripts, old newspaper and magazine articles, rare journals or even just somewhere to stand out of the bitter wind while texting your friend to find out if they're really "just five minutes away".
I'm not too sure how we can go about saving libraries, so I thought I'd put out a call for the intelligent, thoughtful readers of this blog.
What do libraries mean to you? And how do you think we can save them for future generations?