For World Book Day, bestselling children’s author Timothy Knapman, whose books are some of the most borrowed from UK libraries, blogs about the vibrancy and wonder of our libraries and why we should protect them now and for future generations.
There ought to be a warning on the door of every library, in letters ten feet high – BE AWARE: MONSTERS WITHIN! And not just monsters, either, for heroes and villains do battle on their shelves, adventure swings from armchair to armchair and, if you look very closely, you’ll see that something from outer space is hitching a ride on the book trolley.
That’s the thing about libraries. They look like sober, respectable buildings but in fact they are full of mischief. The children reading books inside may appear quiet and concentrating, but in their heads they are pirate queens pillaging the spice islands, rocket scientists blasting to the farthest stars, knights and kings, vampires and dragons. And the oh-so-responsible-looking grown-ups checking out their weekly allowance of books are actually smuggling treasure into the unsuspecting outside world. Under their arms may be books that have changed the course of history (books can do that).
This sense of infinite possibilities is the reason I’ve always loved libraries, and why I passionately believe they must be protected and saved so that our communities can flourish. Libraries keep company with banks and supermarkets and shoe shops – all of which are very important too, of course, but we know what we’re going to get in a bank or a supermarket or a shoe shop. Every time you enter the library, it’s a journey into the unknown, and you don’t know where you’re going to end up.
I remember that when I was a boy, going to the library felt like being Mr Benn. Mr Benn was a character on television, created by David McKee. He was a city gent in a dark suit and bowler hat, indistinguishable from the thousands of other city gents who still, just about, wore bowler hats back then. Only Mr Benn had a secret. He liked visiting his local costume shop. Once he had shed his everyday clothes – and, with them, his everyday life – and dressed up as a wizard or a balloonist or a red knight, he would walk through a magical door into whatever world his costume suggested, and have an adventure. The library was my costume shop, the place where I could choose to be whatever I wanted, and I knew the adventure was there for the taking. Soon enough, I was writing my own stories and that’s how I became a writer – all thanks to my local library.
Writing – and reading too, for that matter – are private activities. We turn our backs on the world to do them. In this frenetic, modern age of updates and notifications, likes and shares, followers and trolls, they are blessed opportunities for sustained concentration. But in libraries, we do them sitting side by side. Libraries bring us together.
Temples of tales, warehouses of wonder, story orchards heavy with fruit, libraries are enchanted places of solitude and communication – with our community and with our infinite inner selves. They are as essential to our lives as the water in the tap and the air we breathe so no wonder we take them for granted. But make no mistake: to sell one off is to diminish the quality of all our lives, to close off countless possibilities of inspiration and escape. They should be saved and cherished.
Timothy Knapman is the author of over sixty books for children, including Superhero Mum, Dinosaurs in the Supermarket and Follow The Track All The Way Back.