For the libraries that shape our lives

Today, on the 15th of July, Finnish book bloggers gather to show their support for public libraries and to highlight the often disregarded importance of said libraries. This is done in defense to the government plans to change the current Library Act so that what is now a basic municipal service would become optional. In Finland public libraries are governed by national law and, according to a report in 2001, they are the most frequently used cultural service – about 80% of Finns use their libraries. We, as book bloggers, feel concerned that demoting libraries to an optional service might deteriorate especially the smaller community libraries. Whereas municipalities are currently required to offer library services, they can independently choose how much funding they allocate to these services. In many cases, the funding may be as low as 1% or less of the municipality’s yearly budget.

My relationship with the public library system has been long and thriving, and it has definitely shaped me as a person. Hence I’m going to share with you a snippet of my history with libraries and hopefully encourage you to consider yours. Due to moving around, I’ve had 3 local libraries, that have all served as my second homes, and which in this post I shall call My Childhood Library, My Teenage Library, and My Adult Library. Aside from these three, I have also owned about 5 additional library cards to libraries in neighbouring towns or municipalities. All of these libraries have been public and funded by tax revenues, which I can assume has been vital for their operation and success.

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Books I’ve checked out from the library between January and March 2015

My Childhood Library was the main library of a small agricultural municipality in Eastern Finland (population approx. 7,000). I got my first library card at the age of 6 or 7 and continued to use the library services until the age of 13. The library was situated in the centre of the municipality and I used to spend my free hours between school and piano or dance lessons inside the library walls. In other words, it was a safe place for a young girl to spend her lone afternoon hours – a fact that my parents must have appreciated. Despite being a small and not very thriving community (an aging population with a yearly declining population count), the library had large sections of children’s and young adult books, a long row of CDs, and a good collection of magazines and newspapers. The library was a place where people came to read the daily newspapers or magazines, to study, or to listen to music. It hosted a regular Story Time afternoons during which librarians would read (and act) aloud fairy tales for the younger children, and displayed art work of local painters and art clubs. My recollections of the library are definitely coloured by what I as a child saw and understood, but the memory of My Childhood Library is a place of safety and warmth – as well as loooong bookshelves (all those Nancy Drews, I could never read them all!).

Moving across the country to a new city can be challenging to any 13-year-old, and being a shy and insecure teenager definitely didn’t make it easier – which is why I am ever grateful for My Teenage Library. Having a library at hand and an access to books definitely made the transition process easier and the books kept me company when I was feeling too shy to approach new people. My Teenage Library was the main library of a mid-sized town in Northern Finland (pop. 22,000) close to the Swedish border. Between the ages of 13 and 19 I read probably 90% of the library’s Young Adult collection, but what really made the difference for me was the fact that My Teenage Library gave me the tools to explore who I was and what I wanted to be. Instead of remembering the “never-ending shelves of books”, I remember all the different sections of books that I explored during those years. I dabbled in fantasy and science fiction and fell in love with the Redwall series as well as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I also discovered kick-ass female heroes, such as Yoko Tsuno, in comics. I slowly transitioned from Young Adult section to the Adult section. I read and tried out hobbies such as origami, yoga, knitting, drawing, and sowing. I dipped my toes into architecture, veterinary medicine, history, politics, psychology, sociology, etc. And what must have been the most influential experiment of them all, I started reading books in English (eventually also Swedish).

I began with the small collection of children’s books in English (which also included YA classics such as Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret), moved upstairs to the crime and detective fiction guided by Mrs Agatha Christie, and eventually, through movie tie-in chick lit such as Devil Wears Prada and Confessions of a Shopaholic, to classics (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wives and Daughters) and other adult fiction. Looking back, I kind of wish there had been a Goodreads or other mode of tracking what I read and listened to during those formative years, but I guess it’s also better that I don’t remember exactly everything that I read. (Nonetheless, I do need to revisit On the Road by Jack Kerouac, because I don’t think my 17-year-old self quite got it the first time around.)

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Books I’ve checked out from the library between April and June 2015.

If My Teenage Library was all about discovering myself and where my passions lie, I guess My Adult Library is about exploring deeper into what it all means. What I now call my local library or “home library” is the main library of a larger Western Finland university city (pop. 223,000). It’s one of the 17 libraries that are together form the city library system, and though I do often visit also the other branches, the main library is my favourite one. I’ve been a member of the library since 2010, and although I haven’t always been an avid user, I’ve lately grown to appreciate the community aspect of my local library. Aside from fiction, My Adult Library houses a good variety of non-fiction and trade literature as well as a considerable collection of books in different languages ranging from English to German to Estonian to Arabic. The library hosts literary events, open lectures as well as courses in information technology. It is a popular place for students as well as families, and there are even some groups of senior citizens that gather there every day to read the newspapers and to socialize. The café connected to the library hosts regular language evenings in which non-native Finnish speakers can practise their Finnish or vice versa.

A library serves as a quiet, but at the same time lively centre for people, and the multitude of services it offers as well as the up-to-date collection of books might not be available without the necessary funding and support. Despite the fact that libraries in larger cities will most likely be able to find additional monetary support for their operations, it is the smaller communities and their libraries that will suffer from the law change. In hard times culture is often the one that experiences the largest cuts, because it is not one of the essential human needs (see for example David Pountney on ‘cultural health’). However, cutting from libraries is also cutting from a system that supports equality. The public library services are free to all its members, regardless of their economic situation or social status. Libraries offer free and safe environments where you can relax, work, or further your education. Libraries also bring together diverse group of people fostering the community consciousness.

Libraries house books, but also ideas and dreams of reaching beyond the immediate surroundings. My childhood municipality didn’t have a dance studio where I could take ballet lessons, but that didn’t stop me at the age of 9 from devouring every ballet book the library had, checking out videos of famous performances, or listening to the music recordings. For me libraries have often felt like my second home, because they have been homes to the books that have influenced me, excited me, and changed the way I see myself as well as the world around me. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Do you have any special memories connected to libraries? Good or bad, I’d love if you could share them with me in the comments! x

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13 thoughts on “For the libraries that shape our lives

  1. This is such a great and powerful post! Recently, there’s been some talk on BookTube re libraries and whether or not they are of any use, and I couldn’t believe the things some people said.. Personal opinion and all, but still..
    My local library made me the reader I am today. It was my 2nd grade teacher who suggested to my mother to take me to the library because I was Always reading in class whenever we had some spare time and ever since I’ve been going. Less now that I primarily buy my own books, but I often go in for a stroll and pick up books that I wouldn’t necessarily buy or pick up some new things that are on display. But in years past, the library helped me discover the books that I like and made me find a nice little corner in the world of books where I feel most comfortable.

    Here in Belgium, libraries are free for anyone and we have quite a lot of them. Big cities have at least one big library and the smaller villages have smaller libraries, so they are very much accessible. Because of that and the free admission, a lot of primary schools take their first and second graders to the library every couple of weeks to establish that primary connection with libraries and culture and thus forging a path that parents can continue later on. I think this is so important and for that alone, for being accessible for everyone, they should be there.

    • Thank you for your interesting comment! It was lovely to hear about your introduction to libraries and how libraries work in Belgium 🙂

      I think teachers and librarians can do a great job in introducing children to reading and forging a connection to libraries. Especially in cases where libraries are further away, the parents don’t always have the time or resources to take their children to libraries as often as they’d wish. I think libraries are especially important for children, because they can foster the passion for reading and knowledge seeking. As I get older, I too have begun to buy more books for myself and building my own “library”, but I still value libraries for the variety of books that they offer. Thanks to that I have later bought many books that I’ve first read as library loans.

  2. I love the library and growing up it was also my second home. It was the place I started my life long love with reading and books, and I couldn’t imagine my life without the library. I now work in one, and it’s amazing to see things from the other side. Libraries are so important to their communities and it’s so sad that some people don’t see them as such. Wonderful post!

    • Yay, another library lover! One of my childhood dreams was to work in a library, but I guess that was purely for selfish reasons (all the books!). I’d love to see libraries and their support for communities acknowledged more in the day-to-day life, so it’s good to start from somewhere – whether a blog post, video, or piece in the local newspaper.

  3. Hyvä postaus! Ihana nähdä, että niin moni on jaksanut innostua joko mukaan tempaukseen tai muuten jakamaan ajatuksiaan kirjastosta. Kiitos siis sinullekin tästä! ❤

    • Kiitos! Bongasin tempauksen aamupäivällä ja aihe sykähdytti sen verran paljon, että oli lähes pakko osallistua. Oikeastaan postauksen aihe oli muhinut päässä jo jonkin aikaa ja tempaus antoi sille sen tarvitseman lähtölaukauksen.

  4. I went to my local library weekly when I was a child. My parents would take me there to do the holiday activities, book readings and of course, to borrow books. I think I read through all the books they had when I was a child and young adult, but as I grew older it became obvious that their selection for adults was not fantastic and that nearly nothing new had been added to the children’s books. This is obviously the council’s fault, and it hasn’t changed in ten years. Then I began using my high school library, which became an oasis away from bullies (as my primary library had too) in which I read books and got on the internet, which I did not have at home at that point.
    Now, I mainly buy my books, but I have a library card for a local library (not the closest one- the next council over, which seems to care more for its library services) and also use my uni library a lot.

    • Thank you for your lovely comment! I think you mentioned an important point of libraries serving as oases as well as the IT side. Even today, not everyone has regular access to Internet and they are thus in danger of falling outside of the information society. I guess nowadays many library users come to libraries also to use the free wifi 🙂

      I’m sad to hear that your council isn’t interested in replenishing the library’s collection or keeping it up-to-date. I’m used to the fact that it might take some times before the new releases arrive to my local library, but I still know that I can also put in requests for certain titles that will at least be considered. Although libraries don’t need to “update” books on a regular basis (compared to software or technology), the downside of not purchasing new titles is that the library can easily turn into a museum instead of a lively community space.

  5. Libraries are very important community spaces which enrich people’s lives. I have been a member of my local library since I was 3 years old although I now use the library near where I work in north London as it is more convenient and has a better selection of books with new ones appearing much more regularly. My blog would look very different if I didn’t borrow books from the library – I am lucky to have access to such a good one.

    • Thank you for your lovely comment! My blog too would be very different without library books. In this year alone, over 50% of the books that I’ve read and reviewed have been from the library.

  6. Hmm,oddly enough,I’ve never set foot in a library – well,those of my schools don’t count.
    The reason is the libraries in my country don’t boast a high selection of modern classics; they most probably won’t have books such as The Unbearable Lightness of Being or Disgrace.

    Also,I don’t know why,but I like seeing books I’ve read sitting on my shelves.They sort of bring back good memories.Haha,snobbish I know.

    In many places,in my country particularly,libraries are not given the respect they deserve.Why? Maybe because the reading culture is badly lacking,or maybe because the books are free.People forget how a library is home to a wealth of information,dreams and ideas that is nowhere to be found elsewhere.Also,I remember seeing on the page of HONY (Humans of New York) an officer of a library saying how the building welcomes absolutely everyone,even if you’re an illegal immigrant.That was powerful,and I don’t know how many people actually grasped what he said.

    You’ve now inspired me to take a stroll in a library.I’ll visit a local one before I go back to uni,just to get the feel of it. 🙂

    • By the way,I was meaning to ask you something: would you still like to get the Folio edition of Animal Farm? I saw how much you like the book and was thinking about offering it to you.The Folio edition has remained the same since it was published decades ago,so it might look ordinary when compared with modern Folios,but it is nonetheless still the best edition of the book you can get.

      PM me in goodreads if you’d like one. 🙂

    • I’m glad that I’ve managed to inspire you to visit your local library! Maybe upon closer inspection you’ll find that they do have some modern classics, although maybe not as wide of a selection as you’d wish. I don’t know – it’d be lovely to hear your thoughts if you do visit 🙂

      I don’t think preferring to have your read books on your bookshelves is snobbish. Especially when it comes to favourites, it’s much nicer (and more convenient) to have your own copy that you can always return to. You also get to choose the edition that you’d like to read, whereas libraries often have just one basic edition. However, for me libraries are convenient because they allow me to read a variety of genres and to make sure that I enjoy a certain author before buying his/her books. So it saves me a bit of money and a lot of shelf space!

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