When I was little, my mother used to leave me at the library whilst she went shopping. I’m not entirely sure what today’s troubled society would make of this but, along with eating cake mixture and Test Card F, it never caused me any serious harm.
It was a wise decision on my mother’s behalf. I needed at least an hour to decide who was coming home with me that week, because the choice would shape my thoughts and actions for the next seven days. I also had to make sure that I renewed Little Women. I did this religiously, every week, because Jo, Beth, Meg and Amy were my friends and the idea of them living with someone else (even temporarily) was unthinkable. I also had to allow time to be told off by the librarians, who would viciously stamp my card and mumble under their breath about overdue fines and good parenting.
They didn’t understand that I failed to return my books, not because I was slapdash or selfish, but because I couldn’t bear to let them go. They were my friends. When I was worried or scared, I would turn to Aslan for advice, I searched the riverbank endlessly for a glimpse of Mr Toad and when I played in the garden, I was never alone – I had Jo and Meg to keep me company. Hidden amongst the highly polished shelves of my local library were new friendships and fresh adventures, in lands I would never visit and with people who would stay with me forever.
The library is far less stern now. It has pots of coffee and internet stations and their automatic doors are open far more often. When I was a child, library opening days were my favourite days of the week – Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Two Thousand Fried Sardines, should I ever be foolish enough to forget. Now, instead of brown cardboard tickets, there are fancy swipe cards and convenient online renewals … my little library has changed beyond recognition, but the adventures are still hidden away on the book shelves and Aslan sits patiently waiting for a new generation of children to find him.
If the government have their way, he may never be found. The chances of bumping into Ratty and Mole at your local car boot are pretty remote and I have never seen Anne of Green Gables wandering around my local Oxfam. My heart aches for the children who will be deprived of their company, the ones who will never peer curiously into the back of the wardrobe or be tempted to cut off their hair to add to their pocket money.
We are denying them some of the most important friendships they will ever make.