When I was a child, I lived in libraries.
There were books for children my age, books I’d go and investigate that clearly weren’t for children my age – science fiction and comedy and horror, all of which seemed to be crammed with what I’d later realise was filth and smut – as well as encyclopaedias, magazines, street directories and parish registers, because a good library is as voracious as its users and absorbs everything printed it can.
Libraries contain worlds and I was a space traveller. In Plymouth, where I first stepped through the doors, there was a reading scheme which culminated in being given a small embossed shield by Patrick Moore, who was nearly crushed to death by overexcited children at the handing-out ceremony.
Later, as a teenager I found not only the filth and smut but also writers whose names you never heard on television – BS Johnson, Caryl Brahms and SJ Simon. Authors whose work I love still and who influenced my own writing.
None of the above is new to anyone who loves reading: one of the difficulties about writing about libraries is how much you end up dwelling on the past.
I have to be frank and say that for many years my library usage tailed off dramatically after I left home. In the parts of London where I spent my 20s and 30s, libraries were small and unwelcoming and couldn’t compete with the sheer glut of books available in bookshops. Libraries were somehow part of the past.
But now I’m a parent, and I live in Hastings, a town whose library has just been refurbished, with a very good children’s department. My children love it, and run free like deranged bibliophiles, grabbing what they can and demanding that I pull books down from higher shelves for them.
Their tastes are not narrow, despite a powerful dinosaur obsession, and for them a library is a colourful, living experience, all about potential, and roads not yet taken.
Libraries are portals to other worlds; supporting and funding them is supporting the future, not the past. Without them, we’re just rooted in the present, watching lives go by that we never got to live.
David Quantick is a writer whose credits include The Day Today, The Thick of It and Veep. His latest novel GO WEST (Unbound) is out now.