Sandstone Press

Rachel Ward: What Libraries Mean to Me

It's Libraries Week! A few days ago, author Rachel Ward tweeted about the importance of libraries. We really liked what she had to say. 280 characters isn't an awful lot to work with, so we asked Rachel if she'd be up for writing a bit more on the matter for the Sandstone blog. It turned out she had plenty to add!

In the hurly-burly nightmare of the news, I hope we don't lose sight of #LibrariesWeek. Libraries - public and school - can and should be the centre of a community, providing safe space for reading, browsing, research, study. A place of information and welcome, open to all.

In Libraries Week (#LibrariesWeek on Twitter), I’ve been thinking about what libraries mean to me and I’ve concluded that, both in schools and in wider society, libraries can and should be the centre of their community, providing safe space for reading, browsing, research and study.

When I was concentrating on writing young adult thrillers, I did many school visits. You can tell a lot about a school from its library and in the best ones it was obvious that the librarian fostered a love of reading for its own sake, as well as supporting students’ studies. It was also clear that the librarian and other support staff provided a safe and encouraging place for all students, especially those who might not fit in easily elsewhere, or who needed a respite from the hurly-burly of the ‘schoolyard’ (field, dinner hall, etc.). I well remember needing space like that myself in secondary school and finding it in the somewhat dusty alcoves of our very traditional school library.

Public libraries also provide a safe and welcoming environment. Librarians will help people find books, of course, and negotiate their way through their physical resources, but also help them use the internet to apply for jobs or deal with the benefits system. They may be the only person that someone living on their own talks to all day. They run events and workshops and are also a source of information about all sorts of other things available in that community. When my children were little, visiting our local branch library was a highlight and helped me to cope as a new mum. Although automation can have a place in running somewhere like a library, I feel very strongly that real people and trained librarians are a must.

Nowadays, I still use libraries. If I can’t concentrate at home, I sometimes take my laptop to Bath Central Library and work there. I’ve also used the Local History section in Keynsham library for research as there are a lot of parallels between Keynsham and the market town of Kingsleigh that is the setting for my Ant and Bea mysteries. In fact, I found exactly the book I needed about the Fry’s/Cadbury factory – watch out for murky goings on as the redevelopment of Kingsleigh’s factory gets under way in Expiry Date, the third Ant and Bea Mystery, out next year.

These days library provision in Britain is under threat from cuts in local government budgets with 127 closed in 2018 and over 500 libraries handed to volunteers to run. A worrying number of schools have lost their trained librarians, too, and some school libraries are shoehorned into unsuitable places or seem to have more computer terminals than books. I really hope that Libraries Week will focus people’s attention on the necessity of libraries to local and school communities – we need social infrastructure like this to glue us together.