Imagine a world without libraries: Jake Alexander on why we need to fight for these magical places

Published on: 21 June 2021 Author: Jake Alexander

Jake Alexander's new picture book follows children fighting to save their local library. Here, Jake tells us why libraries are so special - and why we all need to protect them.

The front cover of We Want Our Books

Growing up, when my parents would go and do their weekly shop at the local supermarket, I would ask them to drop me off at the library opposite. Because a) a food shop can be really boring as a child, especially when it's not entirely made up of doughnuts, and b) because I loved to read.

It's true that the library smelt kind of weird, a mixture of old books and carpet cleaner. But for however long it took my parents to do the shop, I would sit perched on an oversized bean bag, absorbed in a random book - one that I had found myself or one that a librarian had pointed out to me.

These books ranged from series like Goosebumps to a wide variety of non-fiction about art and history that kick-started my love of those two subjects. I also read a ton of children's picture books (my favourites were Judith Kerr's The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Mog) and a lot of Spike Milligan's poetry.

Exploring other worlds through reading

This small library introduced me to wider reading, allowing me to get lost in different worlds and to find stories that I would never have come into contact with otherwise. We didn't find out about my dyslexia until college, but reading more and more in the library made it easier for me to read at school, and I found it so much easier to keep up with my classmates.

And while I was at school, it was really rewarding to apply the things I had learned and the new ways of thinking I had gained from the local and school libraries. Access to a wide variety of free books cultivates a love of reading and enriches the lives of the local community.

Without this extra foundation and the headstart I achieved by reading in my local library, I'm convinced that I would not be where I am now. I get to do what I love for a living, and for that I feel incredibly fortunate and thankful.

It's devastating, then, that we are living in a country where we won't have to imagine a world without libraries. It's becoming reality.

Why we need to fight for libraries

Since 2010, 850 libraries have closed across the country - there was even an attempt to close the library I went to as a child, and it was only saved thanks to a community-led effort.

Countless children have now been deprived of the free access to read for pleasure; exposure to books that could inspire them to be more than they thought was possible; and the support, which I enjoyed when I was younger, that a wide variety of non-fiction provides in schooling.

Libraries aren't just places to read free books, even though that is obviously a big deal. Neil Gaiman wrote that 'libraries are one of the few places you are allowed to exist without the expectation of spending money'.

Nearly all libraries provide free access to computers and the internet. Not everyone has a smartphone, and not everyone has a computer. Not everyone has Wi-Fi!

I think it's easy to take these things for granted when they feel like such an integral part of our lives in contemporary society. This past year, however, has reinforced the fact that everyone, regardless of wealth or background, should have free access to the internet. Pupils' entire education depended on it this year. Some kids missed out on a lot, because they simply did not have free access to this.

A world without libraries will have deep lasting ramifications within our society - and it will become a reality if we don't fight for them.

We Want Our Books by Jake Alexander is out now, published by Two Hoots.

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