Memories of our childhood library

In the start of a new mini series of library staff blog posts we first have Claire Kettle and Lizzy Pennock sharing memories of the library from their childhood.

Claire Kettle

The outside of Baldoyle Library in Dublin, Ireland
The outside of Baldoyle Library in Dublin, Ireland

The library of my childhood was housed in a small stone building that sat on the edge of the sea. Well – not quite on the edge of the sea, but directly opposite it. The library is still there now, although almost unrecognisable. The converted house no longer stands; in its place you’ll find a concrete cube with windows for walls, balanced on top of a smaller cube made of glass. It now boasts wonderful views of Ireland’s Eye and Dublin Bay, but if you look inward you’ll find floor to ceiling polished concrete, and a floating staircase made of glass and wood. The library of my childhood no longer exists.

That was a wonderful place. To enter, you had to heave your entire body weight against a solid wooden door – an impossible feat for a five year old. Naturally this job often fell to my mother. I would do a little impatient jig on the doorstep, desperately afraid that all the good books would be gone if the door didn’t open that very minute. I practically knocked the poor woman down along with my younger sister once it opened. What awaited was a central staircase sat in a small hallway with two rooms either side. The room on the left held the adult collection, no bigger than a decent-sized sitting room. Another slightly smaller room on the right contained the children’s collection – aka heaven on earth. The library was overseen by Olive, the library’s only librarian. (I should stop at this point to say that Olive’s the reason I became a one.)

She was the best sort of librarian. The sort that met you with a smile, asked what you thought of the books you’d borrowed, turned a blind eye to late fines, and best of all – kept back newly acquired books just for you. She knew what a voracious reader I was. Knew I had read practically everything of interest in the children’s collection by my tenth birthday. Knew that when a book about a boy who learns he’s a wizard was added to the collection it would make my ten year old self very happy. When I think of authors of my childhood – Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Francine Pascal, her name is intertwined with theirs.

I never got to thank her for inspiring me to take this career path. Olive very sadly passed away from cancer not long after the library closed for a major refurbishment. She would have been in her forties. I never got to work alongside her when I got an evening library assistant position in the same library years later. I’ll never know whether she knew the impact she made on its members. My hope is that this captures part of it – my thank you letter to her.

Lizzy Pennock

The outside of Capel St Mary Library
The outside of Capel St Mary Library in Suffolk

My childhood library was one room in my village’s community complex. It was dark, drab and smelled of must and magic. Every Saturday morning after swimming lessons, my mum would take my sister and I to the library and we were allowed to pick out six books each. We quickly exhausted the children’s section in the tiny village library and formed a rotation of favourites that we read over and over again.

As I got older and started forming attachments to certain authors and series, the revelation that you could order books and have them delivered to your library free of charge was a game changer. I still remember the excitement of spotting a book on the reserved shelf with my name on. How grown up. To this day there’s still a small part of me that thrills when I hear an old fashioned metal date stamp sing. It sounds like endless possibilities and joy.

When a huge and futuristic self-service machine was introduced, my sister and I would delightedly scan our books and beep our cards, while the long-suffering librarian studied her nails and looked around at the otherwise empty library. Now we were the ones crunching the date stamp onto our books. We were the ones filling our Suffolk Libraries plastic bags with ghost stories, talking animals, Horrible Histories – small pockets of joy to look forward to and relish while eating sandwiches in the garden. Happy days.

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