Friday 11 October 2013

A People's Palace in Every Town Savita Kalhan

The Edge are going to be running a great feature with those very important people who know more about children’s literature than probably anyone else – librarians! So in the spirit of celebrating libraries and the amazing people who run them, my blog today is about what libraries have meant to me.

I’m not sure whether I would have dared to pursue the dream of being a writer if I hadn’t spent most of my time in a library when I was growing up.

I came to live in England with my parents just before I was one, and I was brought up in a very traditional Indian environment, so my childhood was completely dominated by school and homework and books, the key to knowledge. Both my parents were in complete agreement about this. They shared a reverence for books, holding them in awe and respect. Books were cherished. They were the means to knowledge. A book was never allowed to be put on the floor or anywhere else it might get damaged.
 We couldn’t afford to buy any books. So we joined the library, which became my second home. Wycombe Library had an amazing children’s library, where my sisters and I used to max out our library cards. It was also very much a sanctuary and refuge during more troubled times. We devoured every book in the children’s library, and lost ourselves in a thousand different worlds. I found my voice there.

The Old Wycombe Library
Before I was old enough, the librarian at the adult library, worn down by my entreaties, allowed me to have a library card for it at twelve. Amongst other books, I really wanted to read more John Wyndham as The Kraken Wakes wasn’t in the children’s library. For a while she vetted what I took out, but after a while left me to my own devices. I wish I could remember her name, but I thank her from the bottom of my heart.

New Children's Section

High Wycombe has a brand new library building now. It's right in the middle of town and is part of the new Eden Shopping Centre.

It’s big but far from being one of the new ‘super-libraries’.

These new super-libraries are more like mega-complexes, housing thousands of books as well as having music rooms, exhibition galleries, theatres etc  Birmingham has one such super library, or in the words of the Dutch architect, ‘a people’s palace’.

Well, not everyone can get to the palace. There are people everywhere, most of whom live miles away from a super library. They would be happy enough with a smaller local library, and it is the local library that is under threat. We need a people's palace in every town, one that everyone can get to.
I firmly believe that libraries are precious and should be placed under a protection order. And as for the school library closures that have happened in many schools, well they need all the help they can get. An IT department obviously has a place in the modern world, but not at the cost of a library stocked with real books.

So hooray for librarians and long may they have a library to reign over!


  1. Hear, hear! I share your story and yes, there should be a protection order on libraries! They are such easy targets in hard times. Easy to take down, difficult to restore. Great post, Savita.

  2. Thanks, Candy! The more people who shout about it the better!

  3. A few friends shared this blog on FB and also shared their childhood library experiences. One of them went to the same school as me in High Wycombe and remembers Wycombe Library exactly the same way as I do, which was such a fab feeling!