At the top of this blog it says "travel, language, poetry, teaching and anything else that occurs to me" so let's get away from travel for five minutes. Let's talk instead about libraries. (And I can think of at least one reader who just cheered.)
Nowadays, apart from looking for text books, I don't go to libraries. If I want a book, I buy it. It accounts for a substantial percentage of my salary but what can I say. I like owning books better than I like borrowing them.
Part of the problem is that I don't have a convenient local library and the selection of books available at the less convenient ones (the ones that are an hour or more each way to get to) don't coincide with my requirements.
But it wasn't always this way.
I've lived in the same house (give or take periods working away or travelling or living at the University Halls of Residence) for forty-five years – I was six when we moved here. Back then there was a library and I had read a lot fewer books. It was, even for a six year old, a five-minute walk away. It has long since disappeared, demolished for no very good reason. The land to this day remains derelict although they did put a fence round it and dig a hole a couple of years ago.
But that's something else that wasn't always this way.
I remember the library so well I could draw you a map and with a bit of effort label up the shelves with Dewey classifications. I remember it as I remember little else of my childhood. It's a bone-deep visceral memory.
At first I used the children's library. (In through the front door. First door on the right. Librarian's desk on the left, immediately inside. Young children's books at the back left. Older children's books at the front.)
I remember taking my books to the librarian and the pink cards being taken and put into little card envelopes and filed in a wooden drawer.
I also remember the day when I couldn't find anything I hadn't already read and was allowed into the adult library. (In through the front door. Through the door straight ahead. Librarian's desk to the right – connecting to the children's desk via an arch). Fiction on the left. Non-fiction on the right.)
In the next few years I probably read ninety percent of the fiction in there. (It would have been a hundred percent but inexplicably the library also had books suitable for girls.)
I'm getting all nostalgic for the colour yellow now – not any old yellow, the yellow of the spines of the books published by Victor Gollancz. They were always the ones that I looked for first. They had all the best science fiction. Of course at this remove it's difficult to identify specifically which authors were in the Gollancz stable but among the science fiction authors that I discovered at the time were Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, Robert Heinlein, Stanislaw Lem, J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Keith Laumer, Andre Norton, Frederik Pohl, Robert Sheckley, John Sladek, E.E. Doc Smith, John Wyndham and Robert Zelazny.
Ah. Those were the days.
But don't get me wrong. I didn't just read Science Fiction. I also read Ian Fleming's James Bond books Adam Diment's less well-known spy books The Bang Bang Birds, Dolly Dolly Spy and The Great Spy Race. I read Russel Thorndike's Doctor Syn books which I remember fondly and Kenneth Royce's XYY Man series. I read Sherlock Holmes. I read anything and everything. These are just the ones that jump immediately to mind. I'm sure I could come up with many more if I put my mind to it.
And now I don't go to the library. Instead I browse in bookshops. I treat bookshops as libraries with the inconvenience of having to pay but without the inconvenience of having to take the books back.
And even that is changing. Quite often now I browse on line. And that's what I'm off to do now, to browse on line. I have a sudden fancy to read a Doctor Syn novel, or maybe one of the Adam Diment ones. If I can find them cheap enough I'll buy some. And as I read them I'll think about the old library.