“A public library is the most democratic thing in the world. What can be found there has undone dictators and tyrants: demagogues can persecute writers and tell them what to write as much as they like, but they cannot vanish what has been written in the past, though they try often enough…People who love literature have at least part of their minds immune from indoctrination. If you read, you can learn to think for yourself”
– Doris Lessing
I’m passionate about libraries because they’re weaved into the fabric of my life. My early childhood memories include going to public libraries, with my mother and siblings to borrow books we couldn’t afford to buy. Reading kept the kids quiet and libraries were free. It was a win win scenario for a single mother with three of us to feed, clothe, house and entertain. If we hadn’t access to libraries we wouldn’t have known much further than ourselves, the small estate we lived on, the families whose kids we “played out” with and our own home. Because of libraries other lives were known, countries and cultures completely alien to us, actual aliens, monsters, heroes, whole universes of magic and adventure. Access to books gave us access to other worlds.
Libraries to teenage me were a place to keep up, to get my head down and do more. Constantly learning, working to understand who I was, to find people who led lives like mine and left something of themselves to teach me. They were where I first discovered dystopian fiction and critiques of systems of power.
Now as a mother myself with a daughter who loves libraries they’ve always been safety for us. A place we could go just the two of us. Quiet and safe, full of books that we can share, and free. 4 million children in the UK do not own any books. I’m lucky enough to be able to provide books for my daughter, I’m working class and a single mother and I do what I can. But I can’t provide her new books every day, every week or even every month. Libraries can. And they’re even more important to those children who don’t have any books at all.
Finding formal women only space has brought further understanding of the power of libraries to me. Meeting women away from men has allowed me to value women more, to seek out women’s work and to recognise how absent women are from mainstream culture. Because of the dedication of women I, and so many other woman, have access to women’s libraries. My local women’s library has given me a knowledge of my history as a woman, of shared struggle and ongoing growth. A history I would struggle to find picking through a general library dominated by works written by men. Starting to learn more of our liberation movement, and also stories of just being a woman in all the ways we are women, has given me the tools to organise as a feminist. Knowledge of our past gives direction for our future and libraries provide that.
Those attacking libraries understand their power, and so should we. I am a working class woman and so proud of the history behind me. Working class solidarity and struggle, sisterhood. Constant work, together, to move forward. 2017 has already seen attacks on the Working Class Movement Library in Salford and now on the Vancouver Women’s Library. Online organising across both sides of the Atlantic have united those who wish to deny people access to tools which educate, empower and radicalise. It’s important to ask why they target these democratic spaces for free education. Read the books detractors don’t want us accessing, see the evidence of past successful working class organising, seek out women’s voices when you’re being told you shouldn’t. Support libraries.
“Libraries are places where exciting, radical and sometimes dangerous ideas are born. There is nothing staid about a library or a librarian. We need them now more than ever”
– Professor Mary Beard