The blurb of Ali Smith’s latest book, Public Library and other stories, tells us it’s about ‘what we do with books and what they do with us: how they travel with us, friends for life; how they shock us, change us and challenge us’ but after reading this fantastic book, I would argue that it does even more than that. It brings romance, depth and importance into why libraries are necessary and it reminded me of how integral, safe and comforting public libraries can be.
Ali Smith’s Public Library and other stories is a collection of short stories about reading, writing, books and libraries. Each story is interspersed with passages from different authors about their thoughts, feelings and reflections on public libraries. It’s a commentary on a diverse range of experiences within libraries and what they offer to readers individually and collectively. I felt such a connection to these stories because I, along with many of the authors within this book, feel really nostalgic about libraries.
I’m not sure whether it’s because my Mum has worked in a public library for my whole life or whether it’s because I have always been an avid reader (perhaps those two things are linked) but I have always felt calm and comforted in a space that is surrounded by books. Throughout my life, particular when I have been in an unfamiliar city, I tend to gravitate towards the local public library. It’s a space where connectivity is possible (by way of free information, Internet access, local knowledge, maps etc.) and it’s also a space where you can freely dwell without the expectation of purchase; unlike cafes, shops or many other public places. The ‘free’ aspect of public libraries is crucial because it allows all people, regardless of socio-economic status, to have the opportunity to access services which provide information, entertainment and safety. I can’t think of another public space that offers the same, can you?
I’ve always had a rubbish sense of direction so when I first moved to Melbourne I had no idea how to find my way around the CBD. The only place I was confident in locating was the Melbourne City Library. For months I would catch the train to Flinders Street Station and walk to the library so that I knew where everything was from that starting point. If I was entirely lost, I knew vaguely how to get back to the library – it was my home base, my safe space.
This is one of my most ‘noted’ books, as in, I have scribbled, highlighted and tagged notes throughout the entire paperback – I just couldn’t let go of some of the amazing quotes. Here’s a selection of some of my favourites:
” The important thing about the notion of a public library now is that it’s the one place you can just turn up to, a free space, a democratic space where anyone can go and be there with other people, and you don’t need money”
“I still have plenty of books at home, and I still sign up to my local library, regardless of where I am in the world.”
“The library was a gateway to a wider world, a lifeline, an essential resource, a cave of wonder. Without access to the public library as a child, my world would have been smaller, and infinitely less rich. All those riches, freely available, to everyone and anyone with a library card. All children should be so lucky.”
I absolutely loved Public Libraries and other stories by Ali Smith and highly recommend it to anyone who finds joy in freely perusing library shelves and leaving with a big stack of borrowed books under your arm.