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  • stevenmitchell

Libraries in the digital age

There’s no doubt about it, libraries are great. And every writer wants to see their work on library shelves. But I’ll be honest, I’m not a regular user of a library. There was, however, a time when I loved them. When I was a child, my mum took me and my brother to the local library every weekend. The children’s books were kept in a beige-carpeted cave in the basement of the building, where you could look up at street-level windows, and see peoples’ legs walking by. It smelt of old paper—grass, vanilla, and musk, and the chemically aroma of new ink. The shelves were stuffed with books, hundreds of multi-coloured spines, arranged by librarians who were no doubt frustrated by the inability of children to respect the Dewey Decimal System.

My brother and I ran around choosing books, flicking through them to see how wordy they were, and if we liked the pictures. We’d check out three or four at a time, take them home and devour the words. I progressed from Dr Seuss, to Roald Dahl, to Terry Pratchett, before the adult books enticed me to the next floor up. I moved straight to Stephen King—I was far too young to be reading such scary stuff—yet I was encouraged to read anything.

I used the library regularly until I went to University, whose library I only used for researching mind-numbing coursework assignments, and then I stopped. I didn’t step foot in a library for years and instead bought books from charity shops or received them as presents. On one occasion, I sat in St Albans library, and worked on a short story—but it was so noisy and busy, I couldn’t concentrate, and longed for a librarian to hold their finger to their lips to shush everyone.

But now a wonderful thing has happened and I have a two-year-old son. At the moment he’s too young to read. He’s at a stage where he recognises letters as letters, and loves flicking through books looking at the pictures, and would listen to stories being read to him all night if he could. And, I’ve started doing exactly what my mum did, and most weekends, we visit the library. He and I choose books together, and he's loving the library just as much as I did when growing up.

Even in this digital age, when so many things can be done online, when the fear that books are redundant is never far away, libraries will always be a special place. Libraries are a resource to be treasured and celebrated and I love them again.

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