The frisson of first using a library

I’m a librarian; I love libraries, I work for a university library, and I’m a self-confessed bookaholic.  But I have to admit it has been a while since I used a public library…. I know! I’m sorry!!!  Last week, however, I checked out my very first ebook from the public library and I was so excited! (childishly so).

To go back to the beginning…. As a child I was introduced to the library by my parents.  On alternate weeks we would either go to the public library in town, or to the mobile library that stopped just down the road from our house, by the row of local shops.  I remember my Dad pointing out the Swallows & Amazons books for me to read, and introducing me to Biggles because he’d loved them as a child.  We had a lovely children’s library in a beautiful building, next to the adult library, which of course I eventually graduated to.  As a teenager I tried for a Saturday job there once – but it was notoriously difficult to get a position, because so many people wanted to work there – my application was never even acknowledged.

The library moved premises many years ago (which I’ve never been to), but the building has been repurposed as a local Museum which incidentally I visited with my Mum last summer (2019 – when one was able to do such things).  

As a student I was a member of various libraries (not just the University ones), and as a grown up working person I have used libraries – but as a grown up working person I found in recent years, especially with cuts to funding, staffing and opening hours, that it just wasn’t very convenient for me to get to the library I wanted, when I wanted.  I’m in the privileged position that I don’t ‘need’ a library to supply my book desires.  You will often find that librarians fall into two types – those that have no books (using their library instead!), and those that have a LOT of books  – and yes I fall into the latter category.   I consume books – from charity shops, second-hand shops, new shops, via kindle, borrowed from my Mum or friends, or from the University library.  In lockdown when people commented on social media that they had read all the books in their house  – I laughed.  It would take me a very long time to read all the books in my house, a good few years at least.  But I do appreciate my privileged position – and I am a staunch supporter of libraries, obviously.

Earlier in lockdown I realised what I should do was join the library online in order to access their e-resources. (I joined Cardiff Public Library – as I work in Cardiff, but my two nearest branch libraries belong to another two different counties, so I could conceivably join them too).  I joined, and then didn’t get round to accessing anything.

Between 24th September and 4th October I attended the online Wigtown Book Festival which was brilliant.  I’ve never been to a real life one, although I did visit Wigtown itself (Scotland’s official book town – think Hay-on-Wye but in Scotland instead of Wales) a couple of years ago.  The talks can still be accessed via Catch Up on their website, and on their YouTube Channel. Excited by all the new authors I was being introduced to I have visited their online book shop, of course.  However, I can’t buy everything (much as I’d like to) else I would bankrupt myself.  So a moment of (obvious) epiphany occurred – I should check out the library instead…  As the book talks were all about very newly published books I was aware I wouldn’t necessarily be able to access them, however, it has given my the opportunity to look into the back catalogue of various authors.

So I dug out my virtual library card (um, just a barcode number really) and looked into just how exactly I could access these resources.  I downloaded the BorrowBox app to my Ipad (recalling how I’d heard all about them at the CILIP Wales conference I went to the other year), and looked for a particular author.  

It was quite a surprise just how excited I was to ‘check out’ my first public library e-book – especially since my day job during lockdown has evolved to include activating e-books.  It isn’t like they are a new medium for me.

But yes, a thrill that I think harked back to all those years ago, checking out books with my little card tickets.

And what was the e-book I chose?  A YA book called ‘Under my skin’ by trans author Juno Dawson.

(Not the book she talked about at the festival, but a nice introduction to her work)