The Carnegie Library Luton
Today has been National Libraries Day. It should have been front page in all of our newpapers and should have occupied many minutes on our TV news broadcasts in celebration of the glory of the LIBRARY.
Libraries are often architectural wonders in themselves. All over the world you can visit them and often they take your breath away. Walk into the New York Public Library or the Prunksaal in Vienna, or, even our own British Library and not fail but be inspired by being in the presence of a monument dedicated to nothing other than the BOOK!
The BOOK is an object which has created revolutions; has irrevocably changed people’s lives; has transported people to places beyond their wildest imaginings; and still takes them into a world of thrills, suspense, love and faith.
I remember my early visits to the library in my home town Luton. It was a building donated, yes donated, by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie – people believed so greatly in libraries in those days to pour thousands of pounds into their creation and in those days no government would have dared to even contemplate closing one down. For me it was the quiet, the sense of purpose of those seeking titles, the sheer scope of knowledge available on its shelves, which were literally awesome. Initially I was allowed just one or two tickets, I think, but in time the more tickets I could get the better it was. Every few weeks I came back home with an armful of lendings and the more pristine those books were in appearance, the more interesting I was convinced they would be. Any topic was acceptable, and interesting, and my vocabulary seemed to grow as a result. I even got to know the names of places and things, which others couldn’t even begin to pronounce – indeed a bus conductor almost threw me off the school bus for swearing because I shouted the word ‘Vladivostok’! So when the town decided to build a spanking new library, with unbelievably new facilities, for me it was more life changing than going into the country’s holiest shrine.
Currently libraries are closing thanks to the government’s unforgivable cultural iconoclasm, and the effect is that any working class lad, like I me, now has a more limited chance in today’s world. How else can you plumb the depths and reach the heights of knowledge without books, and without libraries? Yes I know we have tablets, TV, audio books and all that, but ask anyone of my age and they will tell you that there is nothing like the experience of opening and holding a real book, and thereby starting the process of achieving an education beyond measure; and where else, for all our citizens, can that also be achieved except by access to a real library.