The word library is literally inseparable from the concept of books, deriving from the Latin ‘liber‘ meaning ‘book.’ When I was growing up, they were certainly my major source of printed parchment, and I would look forward to my tri-weekly visits to Westcliff Library like most kids would look forward to a visit to a Saturday afternoon football match, (although I would look forward to those too: I like to think I was well-rounded).
My library fare generally consisted of a book on Norse or Roman mythology, a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and a couple of Asterix comics. (I was blown away when I found out later that not only were Asterix books not originally in English, but that the jokes and even the names of the characters were translated into dozens of different languages: that explained why sometimes you felt like a panel of the comic strip was meant to be funny, but there was no punchline there: originally, there may have been one in French which just didn’t fit in!)
My addiction to libraries didn’t last long: ever since I discovered that books could be purchased in exchange for cash, and didn’t need to be returned or risk suffering a fine, I have left the temple of the temporary book behind and nowadays only ever stop into them to see if they are selling any left-over stock. Why is this? Most of the books I buy are never read again, and if I buy them with the intention of passing them on to friends, it makes as much sense just to give them the title and tell them to get it out of their local library. There is just something about owning books, knowing I can go back and refer to them, or lend them to people, or just see how beautiful they look on my many bookcases.
For weeks I had been hunting for a book to help me with my tour-guiding, ‘Walk the Lines‘ by Mark Mason, the story of a Londoner who decides to walk every step of the London underground, going between each of the 269 tube stations on foot and full of all of the wonderful trivia I love so much, (did you know the Bakerloo line which runs past my house was named by the press as it originally ran between Baker street and Waterloo, and the Victoria line was close to being called the Viking line, as it ran between Victoria and Kings Cross?!). Not finding it in any second-hand or charity shops, but knowing I had a week to spend at home, I got my mum to order it from our local library. It must be a popular read, as it arrived weeks later, and I only had time to read the first two chapters on a flying visit home.
What to do, what to do? I considered taking it with me, then mailing it home, before realising it would probably be almost as cheap to buy a copy of the book. I have considered finishing reading it in bookshop coffee shops, as for some reason I have an aversion to buying books I have either started or already read. I will probably join my local London library somehow, and get it from them, but the fact that this was my last thought, (after reading a chapter at a time over days in a bookshop coffee shop!), means I may be underusing the wonderful facilities libraries offer.
Library use has apparently been in steep decline in recent years, with one of my favourite authors, Philip Pullman, leading a campaign to prevent them being closed down in the UK under government budget cuts in 2011. The ones I have been in recently seem to have changed with the times, being full of computers and DVDs and the suchlike, but for me, thanks to my fetish to own these compilations of paper, libraries will always lose out to bookshops.