Taking risks: the magic of libraries by Gillian Cross - Peters
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Taking risks: the magic of libraries by Gillian Cross

January 17th 2022

When I was fourteen, I fancied learning Tibetan. So I ordered a book from my public library: A Tibetan Grammar: published in 1914, by the Inspector General of Chinese Maritime Customs. It was long out of print but, as if by magic, it arrived in the library and they let me take it home. I didn’t learn Tibetan. But I did learn something that has enriched the rest of my life.

Libraries empower us to experiment. They let us try books we can’t afford; books we might hate; books we probably won’t understand (but we might…). Walking into my public library or my school library I began to feel like an explorer.

I bought books too. But I didn’t have much money, so I tended to spend it on books I knew I would like, by familiar authors.  Libraries offered me the chance to take risks and that made me a braver reader. An adventurer.

It helped to make me a writer too. Not just because libraries help with research and librarians give great advice about where to find information (although both of those have been very important for some of my books). The crucial thing was that my library welcomed me. It made me feel that the world of books was a place where I belonged. A place where I was free to make my own choices, as part of the commonwealth of readers. So I knew that what I wrote was real writing, even before it was printed in a book.

Libraries offer everyone that experience of belonging, whether they’re young or old, rich or poor. They are safe, communal spaces that welcome us in, inviting us to set out on voyages of discovery, nurturing writers and enriching us all.

Ollie Spark and the accidental adventure is out now. 

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