Today is National Libraries Day and in celebration I am beginning a new occasional feature:
This feature will celebrate my favourite local libraries, and if there is a library close to your heart that you’d like to write about, let me know – I’d love to have some guest blogs on this topic.
Today I am going to be sharing my favourite library of all with you, the very first library I ever visited, Beckenham Library.
That’s how the entrance looks now that they have self-issue/return machines, but when I was a kid there used to be two desks behind that wooden window-frame, one for returns, and one for taking out books. I didn’t mind queuing up to take out books – after all, I had plenty to read while I was waiting! I also remember that time there was a Hot Guy working at the library, and I stood in the queue anxiously wondering if he’d judge me on my book choices…
The first space you enter is the generously-sized children’s section. I loved rummaging through the boxes of picture books, finding books for my homework (and for fun) on the non-fiction shelves, and, later, picking up Enid Blyton and Jacqueline Wilson novels I didn’t have at home. If it wasn’t for this library, I would not have been able to read every single Goosebumps book! I was also obsessed with one particular book about jewellery from all around the world – I was always really interested in different cultures. I got it out over and over again for what must have been at least three years. A few years ago I found it in the library sale and bought it for the sentimental value!
The children’s section was full of kids, which is great for the library and for the children of Beckenham, but it meant I couldn’t take any photos.
However, if you turn left as you go in, you’ll find a corner that is my little slice of heaven, the teen section. I may be getting perilously close to 30 but this is still, in my opinion, the best part of the library. Nobody was browsing here so I took plenty of photos.
Here is a photo which shows off the wall displays:
I discovered so many of my favourite YA books here. When I was doing my MA and trying to read as much teen fiction as humanly possible, I came in one day and found Simmone Howell’s Notes from the Teenage Underground by chance. I’d never heard of it before. I was able to read and fall in love with her second novel, Everything Beautiful, as well, thanks to the library. I also found Notes from the Teenage Underground in the library sale, a few years later, and bought it, though I was so disappointed it would no longer be on the library shelves!
I’ve also borrowed books by Malorie Blackman, Sarra Manning, Robin McKinley, Kate Cann, Gabrielle Zevin, Cecil Castellucci, Carolyn Mackler, Julia Bell, Susie Day, Tanuja Desai Hidier, Sophie McKenzie, Mitali Perkins, E. Lockhart, Kirsten Miller, T. S. Easton, and Marcus Sedgwick, as well as quite a few Buffy tie-in novels.
I remember how excited I was when I got a teenage library card and my borrowing limit went from six to eight. I used to go to the library on a Saturday morning, and borrow eight books. As teen books back then were often really short, I’d have read six of them by Sunday evening, and would then have to make the other two books last for the rest of the three weeks before I’d go back to the library! I used to reread the best bits over and over.
Graphic novels and revision guides! I wasn’t a big graphic novel reader when I was a teenager – I was averse to illustrations in books, preferring to imagine everything in my own head – but there was usually another person going through this box on a Saturday morning!
That chair used to be where the graphic novels and revision guides are and they used to be on the end of where the quick reads are now. I didn’t spend much time sitting in it though – the seats in the adult section are more comfortable…
though not much better, at least there’s some padding! There are proper tables and chairs in the centre of the main library and also some desks in the reference section, but obviously they were being used, so I couldn’t take any photos.
Thanks to the general fiction section I got to read books by Angela Carter, Ali Smith, Stella Gibbons, and many more whose names don’t spring to mind right now. I used to be able to see a list of every book I’d ever borrowed by logging into the library catalogue but they changed the software and the history has gone, and I’ve misplaced the handwritten lists I kept before joining Goodreads.
Another section I love – the craft books! I am guilty of renewing some of these books for years!
I always like to check out the displays in the library. Bromley Libraries have their own list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, a selection from this list can be seen above. I also find it nearly impossible to resist checking out the new books displays! I have given into temptation looking at these shelves so many times – and so has someone else, recently, judging from the gap on the bottom row below!
There are so many other parts of the library that I love – the sci-fi and fantasy section, which helped me, as a teenager, work my way through most of Anne McCaffrey’s back catalogue, the horror section, where I tried various different vampire series, the music section, where I found sheet music to borrow, and most recently, the cookbooks.
By the reference section is Literature, where I found writing how-to books aged 14 and realised that writing could be an actual career. Until then, I just kind of assumed I’d write a book someday as a matter of course but would have to do something else as my real job. I haven’t published any novels yet and I do have a day job, but I still have that aspiration I first discovered at Beckenham Library, and two first drafts!
I can’t overstate how much this library means to me. I would never have read as widely as I have if it wasn’t for this place and its wooden shelves filled with worlds and possibilities. My mum signed me up for a library card when I was two, and I had taught myself to read by the time I was four. I don’t come from a wealthy background and could never have bought all the books I wanted to read, so the library was an essential part of my life. It makes me really sad to think that communities across the country are losing their libraries.
Is there a library with a special place in your heart? Let me know in the comments.
Many thanks to the London Borough of Bromley for granting me permission to take these photographs, and to the lovely library staff that have helped me over the years.