– By Tony White
It has been a great privilege working with Blast Theory and running workshops with groups of young people in libraries across the West Midlands for A Place Free of Judgement. And to think about the open door to books and ideas that libraries offer to everyone.
Whenever I’m invited to give a story workshop of some kind – as writers often are – I always try to remember two important things.
First to try and ensure that the workshops are free. Too often these days people are asked to pay, and sometimes quite a considerable sum, which means that only people with money can attend. I know that when I was younger and might have wanted to take part in a workshop, anything more than a token cost would have been like a locked door to me.
Secondly, that people of all ages have busy lives. People have told me that the biggest benefit of attending a writing workshop can often be the brief respite from day to day responsibilities that it offers. Space and time to think and to write without worrying about school, work or family is a rare freedom.
One of the most productive sessions we’ve had making A Place Free of Judgement has been asking young people to take a few minutes to think and remember and then to write about a positive experience they have had in a library. I’d love to share some of those library stories with you now:
My first visit to the old town centre library was when I was around 8 years old. I remember roaming around the kids’ reading area, but not being able to decide on a book to read. So I spotted some activity sheets and started colouring them in. I was with my grandad, so he had gone into the adult’s reading section and began reading newspapers. It was a lovely positive atmosphere in terms of the library being so friendly towards everyone, no matter what age they were. The librarian was so friendly, she gave me my own library card, which I still have to this day.
One day after school I went into the library downstairs. I went by myself because I wanted to be alone for a while. I sat down somewhere no one else was sat. A few minutes later I got up and looked for a book to read. I looked in the teen section and found a Jacqueline Wilson book. She is my favourite artist because I find her books really easy to read, and very interesting and sometimes funny. I began reading after I sat down again. I enjoyed the book and found some parts funny. After about 30 minutes I asked the librarian if I could take out the book, and then I went home.
I remember the first time I picked a book from the adult section from my library. Finally I wasn’t a little kid any more. I was strong and I didn’t need bright pictures to help me understand stories. There was so much more of a selection there. I was stuck to choose. They all had really deep and adventurous names, a lot different to ‘The Little Princess’ and ‘Where is my Boot?’ This was a different side to reading, a side that I was more than ready for. I couldn’t wait to jump in and go to all these different places.
A personal experience I enjoyed in our college library was picking out a new book to read: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. It was an important point in my life because it changed my perception of the world, and sitting on the floor, reading, while the sun glimmered in through the window was a tranquil and unique experience.
I had never been to a library before, however when I got up one morning I wanted to experience something new; something I had never done before. So I rushed to put my clothes on and pulled my shoes onto my feet.
‘Mum, I’m off to the library.’
She looked in shock as I left. After what felt like a never ending walk, I had arrived. I was amazed. I opened the big heavy doors as if I were opening a parcel with interest and anxiety as to what it would be like.
After opening the door I could see books all round. I instantly knew I would come back again. The library had a warm and homely feel to it. I chose a book then walked up and down until I found a quiet corner, and sat for a long time. Before I knew it the book was finished. I found myself looking once again. The colours of the books stood out against the not-so-colourful surroundings. I sat again in my corner. After reading for one hour I was approached and told how to sign out books. I love the library. It was time to leave, but I now knew I would come back again. I headed home to find mum where I had left her. I was in a great mood with the knowledge that I had a place to escape to.
Now over to you.
If reading these stories has made you remember an experience of your own (whether this was last week or fifty years ago) why not take a few minutes to write about a positive memory you have of being in a library. It might be about your discovery of favourite books, or about possibilities opening up, but it could be anything. The only thing we ask is that it is something that happened to you.
Email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org and it might be posted here or read out during our live interactive broadcast from the libraries in Cannock, Telford or Worcester on 29 October, from 3:00pm – midnight.