The Amazing Grace of Public Libraries (or aromatherapy for local living)

My thanks to Grace Kempster OBE for the following piece on the magic of public libraries. It sums up a lot of things I often think about them too … Ian Anstice, July 2015

 

Grace Kempster, Library consultant, formerly Customer and Libraries Manager at Northamptonshire County Council

Grace Kempster OBE, consultant, formerly Customer and Libraries Manager at Northamptonshire County Council

Just why are people so passionate about “their” libraries? After all, they talk of “my” not “the” Library; they barricade to prevent closure; they turn out and speak up, often for the first time.  They try and put into words why they matter so much, often stumbling and struggling to articulate while they do so. To quote one young person at Moulton Library proposed closure public meeting, he burst out “You just don’t know what you are doing!”

Very quietly, often too modestly, libraries are doing something ordinary and extraordinary in everyday lives. They are there when it counts, open when you need them, a constant, letting be the shy child from the unkempt home who spends hours pouring over her dreams and escaping to different worlds.; offering a ready smile and a welcoming joke to someone who otherwise feels “left over/behind/out” – or just invisible and aged; and offering human warmth to the rusty voiced complainer – who has not spoken with another human these past seven days.

For the brave or desperate person who dares to ask “Do you…? Can you just…?” and trusts a stranger with their ignorance and need, they are given the warmth of non-judgemental, matter of fact help and practical support, opening a world of solutions they had no idea existed, all with the same cheery grace that’s dispensed every day. This ‘grace’ which means “undeserved mercy” is the repeat guarantee of care, of acceptance, just the way you are today. It combines practical help and encouragement and is a message suffused with the expectation that you can… you could… and change is possible.

 Tardis-like, local libraries combine physical presence and virtual connection. "

“Tardis-like, local libraries combine physical presence and virtual connection. “

It is the essence of goodness that attracts good people to work in public service libraries – and a modicum of those who like process and power too! But mostly good individuals who see themselves as practical purveyors of solutions, focused on doing, organising, and misguidedly think themselves “practical and not creative”. It is this unique common wealth of knowledge, this observed care in action and clearance of confusion that is so compelling. Eavesdropping on the exchanges you think “That’s so good!” and the infectious caring and helping with a lightness and humour infuses the place.

It is the essence of goodness that attracts good people to work in public service libraries

One library I know – Wellingborough in Northamptonshire – has 94 volunteers. Why, you ask – what is the attraction of getting involved with the library locally? The answer is because it counts. It is worthwhile and worthy. People are compelled to be part of this warmth in an increasingly chill, hostile world where the bone aching deep freeze of austerity and apathy bites deep – and when there is an increasing distance between those travelling faster and faster and those left further and further behind. As if this magic potion of grace and welcome, practical help and essential encouragement were not enough, the “amazing” part is this: people help themselves and each other.

The IKEA-like library offer requires you to put it together yourself. It is not given, it is opened, the genius of the earth is made ready and on “display” for you to pick and mix and concoct your own recipe this visit. Tardis-like, local libraries combining physical presence and virtual connection. Each person selects, elects, and turns the key for themselves. They are books and so much more – places of betterment where unfettered dreams of a different desired future exist for you, for your child.

They are books and so much more – places of betterment where unfettered dreams of a different desired future exist for you, for your child.

Libraries are cherished for the chance for change, the delicious prospect of difference and the dance of discovery. They ‘can be’ places to think, they ‘can be’ new worlds to dream in, they ‘can be’ respite for resilience from grim reality, they ‘can be’ places where the future is decided.

There's more to see on the inside than on the outside

“Libraries offer space and grace”

So, they offer space and grace. You dare to dream, decide to do it differently, divert the course of expectation, take up the dangerous subversion of ideas and inspiration, whispering “it ain’t necessarily so” – they are powerhouses of independent thought.

So there it is. The common magic of libraries; the conundrum of why these ostensibly book lending places are a cover – for a far more vital experience. Each person will have a story of moments that mattered due to this unique “library thing”, when it catalysed a difference, provided the ingredients to cook a new life, an insurance policy against ignorance, a ‘thing’ that is warm and true and caring without design.

“Liberators from ignorance and resonating with laughter”

This is the amazing grace of libraries. Liberators from ignorance and resonating with laughter – which is after all the prime indicator of freedom

Grace Kempster OBE
July 2015

  • #1 written by Tim
    about 1 year ago

    That is quite beautiful. I was trying to articulate the value of libraries in a presentation I am preparing but I could not come close to this!

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