Tag Archives: children

Michael’s Story – Thank You to Fulham Library

Michael shares his powerful story, and thanks the staff at Fulham Library, which was so important to him during a difficult time when he was a child.

Michaels story - a letter to Fulham Library

Michaels story – a letter to Fulham Library


26 March 2016
To the staff of Fulham Library

Dear librarians/staff


On the eve of my retirement it now seems like the right time to write and say a very personal thank you to the local Ibrary of my youth – Fulham Library – which I used from the age of 6. The library and staff played an important part in my life more so than they realised.

They did not know it but the library staff back in the early 1960s helped me through a difficult time.  When l was a young child I was sexually assaulted by a stranger. l was strong enough
to fight back and get away but not strong enough to tell my parents nor anyone else – not for
more than 50 years. I now know that what happened was relatively minor in the scheme of
things. But to my younger self it was a horrible thing. The assault was relatively brief but the
bad dreams lingered. My local library helped me get through the worst of it. lt was a place of
safety for me – a refuge. l felt safe with the ‘Iibrary lady.’ She was neiher parent nor
teacher. She did not tell me what to do but she was there to help me and did. There were
times when I was reading one book a day but even at that rate I could not read them all but each one took me on a journey and soon the bad dreams gave way to good ones.

When I look back through my life and consider where my various interests began the vast
majority can be traced back to a book that I first read at your llbrary. Even my love of
classical music came from you. Do you remember how long it took to check the vinyl
records? What a pain.

I came back to visit the other day. Lots of people there. Far busier than I remember. Times
have changed and so has the library – for the better. One thing hasn‘t changed. A member
of staff was still there in the children’s section. Sometimes I wonder how my life might have
turned out if there was no one there? What matters though is that the library and staff were
there for me when I needed them most and for that I am eternally grateful.

More than 50 years have now passed so I can no longer thank the individual librarians
directly but there will be others like myself who have been helped over the years. On behalf
of us all. I would like to extend my thanks to librarians past. present and future wherever and
whenever they may be. The world is a much better place with libraries and librarians.

Yours sincerely

Michael J Keane
Library User

The younger generation will miss out – Smita’s Story

I feel very sad to learn that our local library, Enfield’s Ridge Avenue Library is to be run by volunteers. I have been going to the library since my daughter was born 25 years ago. We used to attend story time and during the summer holidays both my children would do the readathon challenge. We knew the librarians and one of them who knew my daughter from a very young age still keeps in contact with her on Facebook.

The librarians had so much knowledge and would direct you to the right place to find the book you wanted whether it be for a school project or for leisure. In the Borough of Enfield, I was told only very few are still being run by Librarians and slowly they too will be run by volunteers.

I regularly attended the Library in Enfield Town during my student days and remember how helpful all the staff were in helping you find the book or reference.

I am preparing for a presentation and have recently joined the British Library, the second largest library in the world. I have been amazed with all the help that the Librarians have given to me and reminds me of the same help I received from my local library during my school days. It is a shame that the young generation will be missing out on all the knowledge that Librarians have to impart.

If you have a story to share about your local public library, or about how your local librarians have helped you, please contact us at stories@voicesforthelibrary.org.uk and we’ll be happy to share your perspectives on our library service.

Barnet Children’s March for Libraries – Sept 12th

A children’s march for libraries will be taking place on 12th September in Barnet. Everyone is welcome, especially children, parents and grand parents. Even if you’re not based in Barnet come along.

The march will start at East Finchley Library at 10:15am, then onto Church End Library, and will finish at 12:30 at North Finchley Library.

Paint a poster!

Make a placard!

Come in fancy dress!

Further information about the event can be found here.


Samuel West – “I’ve always loved libraries”

Image c/o Garry Knight on Flickr (cc-by)

I’ve always loved libraries, since I was an avid child reader – see this. Now we have a daughter and consequently space is at a premium I value my local for two new reasons:

1) When I’m preparing for a role or a production I can work there in complete silence, among others doing the same (ours has a reference section with a quiet room).

2) Our daughter is getting through picture books at an incredible rate. We couldn’t possibly afford to buy or have room to shelve new ones as fast as she wants them; borrowing them lets us try lots out (and then perhaps buy a few favourites to keep). Plus the libraries’ range of picture books is chosen by people who know their stuff, so we know we’re starting with a great selection.

Samuel West
Actor and director

Loans or sales?

In this post author Kathryn White shares her perspective of libraries as “cultural gold”.


In December 2011 the National Literacy Trust released figures that of 3.8 million children in the UK, 1 in 3 do not own a book. Seven years ago only one child in ten was thought not to own a book.

Sadly, it is schools from deprived areas dealing with overcrowding, language diversity and financial constraints that are unable to buy books or engage authors/illustrators; seeing their priorities, quite rightly, as the basic needs of their students. However these schools are those most in need of cultural support in order to bring children into and insure their positive development within the community. Reading not only teaches language skills but more importantly, social skills. There is a definite correlation between better reading and more tolerance and understanding between varying cultures and religions. Children attending deprived schools do not have the same exposure to external creative input; which often facilitates for alternative viewpoints and values. Students in higher income areas where parental input, community governors or public support enable staff to engage external creative tutors, invariably gain greater understanding and engage in open discussion. Yet it is poorer catchments, where students face greater financial and social hardship that is often starved of quality literature at home which would encourage empathy and tolerance.

Books in schools are frequently used purely as instruments of learning data; chunks are bitten off and digested as required to fit in with the national curriculum. Books are not viewed as a whole experience, a potential means of mutual discussion and support for mental and social health. Books are a window to the world; they challenge and teach, guide and often help children comprehend what is happening around them, easing isolation during times of change or crisis.

Where schools are unable to provide a comprehensive book list for children, public libraries can adequately fill that gap.

My role as an author visiting a school is to insure that children see books not only as number crunching, information providers but as a genuine pleasure, encouraging imagination, fantasy; escapism without the external control of a computer or tv screen. Stories where a child’s imagination can do the illustrative work, visual character building, are wonderful for developing independent thought and confidence. Authors love to sell their books and I used to endeavour to do this by lugging my heavy suitcase filled with stories for all ages across the country on school visits. However, I was beginning to resemble an ageing body builder or at best careworn salesperson, rather than a writer. I found the whole experience, exhausting and distracting from my main focus; providing enjoyable story sessions. I now only take books into schools upon specific request and if I am driving and not at the mercy of public transport. This makes the availability of libraries for the children I am visiting, vitally important. If I can’t offer my own books for sale, then I can at least direct children to their local library. “It’s great!” I say, “It’s full of amazing books you can read because you want to – about anything or anyone you’re dying to learn about. And guess what? The books are free to borrow.”

For me, as a writer, libraries are cultural gold and sharing this precious national commodity with children in schools is something that gives me immense pride and pleasure. Long may their shelves be full and their doors open.

Kathryn White.


Kathryn White specializes in children’s and YA fiction. She has written over thirty books and often presents at literary festivals and in schools throughout the UK and abroad.

Fiona’s story

I have been a member of a library for as long as I can remember, and I never used my library card more than when I was on maternity leave – when else do you get weeks off work to do nothing but sit and read? The lovely librarians watched my pregnancy progress with real interest – after all I saw them as often as I saw my midwife. I took my new daughter to the library within days of her birth and she was registered as a member. The library staff always said she was their long-serving member, since she’d been going in since before she was born. She’s 22 now and away in university. One of the first things she did on moving was join the city library.

Have you got a story about your local library? Send your stories to stories@voicesforthelibrary.org.uk and we will be happy to share them.

What Libraries Meant To Me When I Was Eight Years Old

Alex sent us this heartwarming post about the impact libraries had on her life.

When I was 8 years old I was given my own library tickets. It changed my life.

Like most children at that age I was curious. I loved asking why and I always had another six questions when you answered the first. My parents, reasonably indulgent, comfortable financially, were happy to buy me a handful of books every month when I wanted to add to my burgeoning book collection. They both read themselves but their tastes were fixed and their books couldn’t be shared with me. Mills & Boons romances, aga sagas, Dick Francis titles and David Attenborough books just aren’t designed for kids.

When I was 8 years old though I became more difficult to cater for as a junior reader.

I had the books my parents bought me and books that I got from the school library but these really only dealt with my ongoing interests in obvious subjects like Ancient Egypt. If I suddenly became curious in something that had just caught my eye, say bridge building for example or the history of lighthouses, my parents weren’t inclined to buy me a book for the passing fancy and nine times out of ten my school library was just too small to have anything on these ever more niche curiosities.

After a while it was obvious to my mother that I had outgrown what home and the school could provide. I was getting frustrated with the books available to me and I was reading less.

Juggling awkward library hours and school runs we started going to the public library regularly. It was this sudden freedom to take out any (suitable) book on any subject that saved me as a reader.

I didn’t have to worry about whether I’d still be interested in geology in a month or check the cost of a book and only very, very rarely was there a subject I couldn’t find out about. I also discovered proper, grown up encyclopedias which enchanted me, became fascinated in Teach Yourself books (I learnt shorthand at 10, Finnish at 11 and promptly forgot it all at 12 but I had tremendous fun doing both) and started borrowing classical music tapes after hearing Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals and being completely captivated by it.

Statue of children reading

MAR212009 (c) colemama/Flickr

My parents were, quite frankly, baffled by almost everything I borrowed. They had no interest in classical music, thought the Finnish obsession was bizarre and shook their heads over the endless books on lighthousekeepers and engineers. But the point is that I was trying everything and they were happy to let me because it was safe, cheap and supervised.

Being part of that library, choosing for myself and trying everything, having the barriers of cost and access removed, getting to know what I liked and didn’t; these freedoms made me a better reader and a much better thinker.

One thing that often gets overlooked by those discussing the impact of library use on children is just how many conversations it can open up for them. The librarians, quickly spotting a kindred spirit, asked me about the books I borrowed. They recommended other books to me, teaching me to assess whether a book was a ‘good fit’ for me and whose recommendations to trust. Reading more widely taught me to compare books and authors and gave me confidence in saying what I liked and why. Explaining why I’d borrowed a specific book to my parents and answering their questions got us talking about books even though our tastes were worlds apart.

Those six little bits of cardboard gave me access to all sorts of conversations I just wouldn’t have had without them. They led to me studying academic subjects I wouldn’t have pursued otherwise (Latin and Classical Civilisation), kept me curious and enthusiastic and taught me that having eclectic tastes does not have to mean bad or trivial. They taught me to take an active role in my own, ongoing, education.

Today I read widely and have overflowing bookcases at home… but I still treasure and regularly use my library card. I use it just as I always have – to read more widely than I could afford to on my own and to feed my endless curiosity.

Alex grew up to be a book blogger too and writes at Alex in Leeds.

The Terrifying World of Children’s Fiction

Should we really be concerned about “scary” children’s fiction? (Image c/o ‘smil on Flickr.)

Jess Haigh wrote the following post in response to author GP Taylor’s recent suggestion that children’s books need age certification. It was originally posted on the Leeds Book Club blog and is reproduced here with permission.

GP Taylor, Cloughton’s Famous Son, has been blathering on the radio creating mounds of self publicity drumming up awareness of the horror that is children’s fiction. It Has Gone Too Far, he says, There Is No Innocence Any More. The Children, it would seem, Are Not Being Thought Of.

This from a man whose books, set around my home town, include evil sorcerers, vampires, and close encounters with death. A man who also, in his former life as an Anglican vicar, represented a religion that teaches children the story of a man who was born in a stable, as a five week old infant chased out of the place of his birth because of mass infanticide, regularly encountered deprivation and disease and was tortured to death, as a lifestyle choice.

Children’s books are often derided for being ‘too’ scary, depressing, or dis-heartening. They encounter too much loss and heartache too young and there is far too much violence. To a point, I would agree. I’ve been reading Michael Grant’s Gone series along with a 12 year old mate of mine, and there are some parts when I think ‘should she really be reading about this teenager having his arms burnt off and replaced with whip-like tentacles? Should she really be reading about teenagers seeing their siblings die in horrible, horrible ways?’. Then I, you know, talk to her about what she is reading and she absolutly loves it. She refuses to read books that aren’t massively violent-these books reflect for her an exciting world. And she knows violence is wrong, she doesn’t get into fights, we TALK about how the books make us feel and we learn from the emotions that come up.

Children need the darkness, just like adults do. There is reason we used to sneak-watch scary movies when we were kids, because we enjoy them. Controlled fear is good for us*, in moderation, it allows us to express emotions we otherwise would have no outlet to. And there is a massive difference anyway between gore and fear-a teenager bashing the heads of Zombies in with ski poles like the heroine of the excellent Undead by Kirsty McKay is a lot different to the chills up the spine of The Yellow Wallpaper.

It is the ‘there is too many troubled children with absent parents’ line that worries me, because this is segregating differently parented children and families into Universal vs Adults only. Josie Smith, one of my favourite series as a very young child, doesn’t have a dad, a fact that is made clear from the start. Is GP Taylor going to have an excellent series of books that shows a functioning single parent family many of the younger readers could either emphasise with, or learn to have empathy for, struck off because it doesn’t fit in with his ascribed lifestyle? There are books about kids being abandoned, stuck in poverty, and troubled because kids are abandoned, stuck in poverty and troubled. Something which the various religious institutions, for all their good works, have completely failed to deal with. There is a reason misereographies are so popular- 1 in 3 children will have suffered from neglect or abuse in their life time. 1.6 million children in the UK live in poverty- almost half of the children in Hyde Park in Leeds do. Why should these children’s lives, albeit fictional accounts, be repressed as not suitable for a wider audience? Why should a child, living on their own or in care, or as a carer, or with parents who don’t care, why should that child not be able to find relatable characters in fiction books because some one whose life is OK thinks it not suitable for them?

What needs to happen, what really needs to happen, is for the ludicrousy of this scheme to get more publicity, but also for library campaigners to jump on it. THIS is why you need qualified, motivated people in the schools who read and love and know the books, who can recommend accordingly, who know how to sensitively and not patronisingly steer away from the triggers, who will not compromise on freedom of speech but will recommend and lend wisely. Also know as, you guessed it, LIBRARIANS. Not ONE single political party supports A Librarian For Every School. This is the sort of thing that shows that they are needed and, if allowed to be so, could be incredibly valued.

Children are always going to like fictionalised violence, because adults like fictionalised violence. The Orange Prize received a lot of slack for being too depressing a couple of years ago. Until the world is made of sunshine and rainbows, though, we need our fiction to be relatable, not boring, and we need, more than anything, to be able to trust our children to make choices for themselves, be able to talk to them about what they read and deal with what it brings up accordingly.

That’s what I think, anyway.

*Read Bettelheim’s the Uses of Enchantment, it is excellent, and says all this stuff far more eloquently

My little rant about libraries – Bex’s story

The following post was contributed by Bex Hughes and originally appeared on her book review blog, An Armchair by the Sea. We are grateful to Bex for allowing us to reproduce an edited version of her post here.

The Old Library, Windmill rd, Hampton Hill. (Image c/o Jonathan Cardy).

A lot has been going on with the libraries lately, especially in my former home town of London. I think, though I’m not sure, that this is also the case in the U.S as well as here in the U.K, but certainly there has been a lot of hype over our wonderful (heavy, heavy sarcasm) government and their ideas about what is culturally important and what isn’t. Apparently, it isn’t important that children be encouraged to read independently, or that they are provided with a safe haven outside of the home where they can go to do homework or just sit on the internet without their sister hanging over their shoulder going ‘it’s my turn now, you’ve had an hour, get off the computer!’.

This is the library I grew up in. It’s a converted fire station and over the door, although you can’t see it in this photo, the words ‘Free Library’ are carved into the stone. The whole of the right hand side was the children’s section, and we used to go there for story time once a week pretty much since I was born, and with all of my siblings. We also used to have a weekly excursion to the library – of course precluded by me running around the house shouting at people to help me find whatever book I’d lost that week, which quite often turned up in the end of my bed…- and I still remember how excited I was when I turned 11 and could take out ten books on my card instead of five (don’t even get me started on how excited I was when we moved to Kent, aged 23, and found out I could take out THIRTY books). As a child, buying books was a total luxury – we used to go to the local children’s bookshop (The Lion and the Unicorn, which has to be my favourite children’s bookshop ever, and I know I share all these links with you and you will probably never go to the places, but I wouldn’t like to not share them, and then you’re somehow in the area and miss out because you don’t know about them!) once a year, at the beginning of the summer holidays and we got to buy two new books each for the summer and it was about the most exciting thing ever. So without the library, my discovery of new worlds (especially those of The Babysitter’s Club, The Saddle Club, The Famous Five and The Secret Seven) would have been hugely limited.

Two major mainstays of my childhood existence were the craft days that the library used to run during school holidays, where we would do an entire day of craft activities based around a particular book (I don’t remember any of the books in particular, but when my brother was little they did a really good one on The Gruffalo). We used to make murals and stuff and it was awesome and you got to meet loads of people who lived in the area who you would often then see during your weekly trips to the library. Also, they cost about £2 to attend, which was really good for our family of 7! The other one was library book sales! One year my sister gave me about 20 Babysitters Club books for Christmas, which she had been buying from library sales for 10p each for most of the year. To this day, it remains one of my favourite ever presents.

I know I’m one of those geeky people who is slightly too obsessed with books and reading, but I did actually have a very balanced childhood – lots of swimming, athletics, long walks in the park with my family where my mum would teach us how to make signs out of sticks and trail each other, after school drama club, piano lessons… etc etc etc. Despite all of that, I literally cannot imagine what my childhood would have been like without my library, and although both of the areas I call home have been really lucky during this whole library closures situation, I know there are many others who haven’t been so fortunate, and I am so sad for them.

Zadie Smith has written a beautiful article about the closures in North West London, which I would really recommend reading if you’ve any interest in the issue. Somehow the local council think it’s OK to storm an historic building in the middle of the night, removing articles of importance (including the plaque from its’ opening by Mark Twain!!). I don’t understand quite how we can get through to the government that it’s really not OK to treat literature this way; that just because it isn’t ‘valuable’ to them (or because other services are deemed more important), doesn’t mean it isn’t to anybody, and I know that a lot of people have little interest in what happens in London, but having lived there I would say that by closing down libraries they’re just asking to make a whole load of problems very much worse.

I know that it isn’t just me who feels strongly that the closure of libraries is wrong; I’m writing in a community of people who adore books and libraries, and whose childhoods were probably as shaped by them if not more than mine was. I don’t know what to do about it, so I’m writing about it.

This article from the Guardian website has a lot of stats about the popularity of libraries – apparently they are the most popular facility provided by councils, despite various councillors continually telling us they are not used.

Also, little quote from the awesome that is Roald Dahl:

“Over the next few afternoons Mrs Phelps could hardly take her eyes from the small girl sitting for hour after hour in the big armchair at the far end of the room with the book on her lap. It was necessary to rest it on the lap because it was too heavy for her to hold up, which meant she had to sit leaning forward in order to read. And a strange sight it was, this tiny dark-haired person sitting there with her feet nowhere near touching the floor, totally absorbed in the wonderful adventures of Pip and old Miss Havisham and her cobwebbed house and by the spell of magic that Dickens the great story-teller had woven with his words.”

Parental neglect and the fact that we aren’t all prodigy’s like Matilda aside, surely this is the kind of experience that libraries have the potential to provide? Why does anybody feel they have the right to take that experience away?

If you would like to write a post about how libraries/librarians have had an impact on you or why you think they are important, please contact us at stories@voicesforthelibrary.org.uk.

Henry’s story – Libraries are being sidelined

Returning to a blog post forced upon most of my fellow school compatriots, in this course, I’d like to talk about Libraries. I am currently partaking in the DofE Bronze course, something that I will talk about at a later period, probably after I have completed it, due to my opinions on the true nature of it and perhaps how those comments might be taken in a way not beneficial to my completion of it,  and as part of my volunteering, I am working at a homework club, after school. This is a rather simple task, where I sit there and help children with their homework, and attempting to impart my knowledge to them in an interesting way without them vomiting profusely. But this has brought something back to me; the fact that Libraries are darn useful. I can recall myself, sitting in a library and reading books about Physics and History at the ages of 6 and 7. But Libraries are now an endangered species. They are at risk of cuts by local councils, bottlenecked by old systems and ideals for running the libraries. But as the internet is becoming more and more powerful, libraries are being sidelined. The extra services they provide over the books, such as the homework clubs, or use of the computers are required for some people, and indeed help to flourish people and their skills. But I think that for now, libraries are here to stay – for the sole reason the internet is not fully open. Libraries represent the diversity of knowledge and the freedom of that knowledge currently does not exist fully on the internet. It is possible that if several censorship laws are passed, knowledge previously garnered from the internet would have to be found in a library, a nostalgic experience for many. Thus, I think what has to happen is we use libraries as our backup, for the possible burning of the modern day Library of Alexandria; the hub of knowledge that is the internet. We require an equilibrium between the two. This may simply be the case however in countries with more wealth, but I think that in poorer countries struggling to make the jump, knowledge is what is needed, and the library can provide that. But libraries have to be supplemented by the great hive-mind of the Internet, to allow the extra services and knowledge that the library provides become a small amount compared to what the internet provides, but have enough force to show the governments that Libraries are here to stay.

I write this blogpost inspired by, and hoping to share awareness of National Libraries Day, occuring on the 4th of February. I thoroughly encourage you to spend some time in your library that day, and perhaps help out with spreading this post, and National Libraries Day.

On 2 interesting library related notes, firstly, has anyone seen my hardback copy of Snuff, by Terry Pratchett. And secondly, the library I volunteer at, well I owe them about £1350 in late fees for a book I “borrowed” when I was 5. It was about trains. Yeah…

Henry (direthoughts.com)