Public Libraries and other stories

In the last couple of years I’d go into the bookstore and I’d almost always see a book by Ali Smith on a display. And then her book, Autumn made several best of lists and I added it to my list. A few months ago I bought two of her books, including Autumn and a book of short stories. I decided to start with the short stories as I love libraries and just joined my new local library.

Smith wrote this book as austerity was being put into place in the UK and libraries were being closed down due to lack of funding. In between the short stories she includes vignettes of various people’s thoughts on libraries. I’ll admit it, I absolutely love these vignettes. I thought so much about how libraries influence people, how they are there for all of us to use, and how many people have been shaped by the books inside them.

That’s not to say I disliked the stories, because I didn’t, they are amazing as well. Smith’s stories are all about relationships, books, life, death, and so much more. I absolutely loved the story about a couple where one of them is obsessed with a particular writer and how that affects the relationship. But all the characters are, in some way, influenced by books and it’s fascinating how she draws stories out of those obsessions.

I believe libraries are essential for informed and participatory democracy, and that there is therefore an idealogical war on them via cuts and closures, depriving individuals and communities of their right to knowledge and becoming on their own terms. (p. 76)

I worry a lot about losing libraries. I live in a more rural county now and we have a vibrant library system because the people of the county voted to fund it. But funding feels fragile for libraries, especially in the areas where it’s needed most, where people can’t afford fast internet or to buy the latest devices to buy books digitally and read them immediately. And books can change lives and open up worlds and I love them along with the library.