A day in the library . . . a life in the library
Sir, – I wish to respond to Patrick Freyne’s feature “A day in the library” (Weekend, July 28th).
I have been working in libraries along time and would you believe it, I was a young library assistant signing people up for library cards in the opening days of the Central Library (ILAC) over 30 years ago. My days at university were on hold for a few years and that library became a university of life to me, a crossroads of humanity.
What it taught me, no university could ever really teach me, that my workplace was a human web of the most elaborate threads you could imagine. It was a hive of activity with whirring photocopying machines, music tape decks in perpetual motion, children poring over picture books, business people dipping into directories, and newspaper readers dozing off to the background of constant phones ringing.
I learned in that university of life about people who were not going home to a warm meal and a place they could call their own. In shelving a library book one day, I found a letter from an inmate of the Maze prison to a nurse regretting the turn in his life taking him away from freedom and from her. I met ambitious and intelligent readers and researchers who were greedy for knowledge to bring them success, and people eager to learn languages in the hopes that they would find jobs abroad where they couldn’t here.
It was hard work with a footfall of 2,500 people per day. We used microfiche to check holdings which were updated when new stock was added. On Saturday evenings, I would come home, lie down and put my legs up against the wall to let the blood flow in the opposite direction for a while.
Over the years, I have heard people making economic arguments about why libraries should exist at all, increasingly in the digital age, and usually the arguments come from people who are economically advantaged.
Patrick Freyne’s feature was an ode to libraries and captured perfectly what a library means to people. Across Irish villages, towns and cities, library staff daily plan to resource and animate civic spaces so that people can come and go in an uninhibited way, adding something more to their own lives.
Patrick Freyne allowed all his subjects’ stories in the library that day to emerge in the plainest unemotional language and in so doing evoked such a positive reaction from Irish library users and the library community for what Americans regularly call the last bastion of democracy. – Yours, etc,