Tom Percival on what makes libraries great
Author and illustrator Tom Percival is in Leicester with the literacy charity, Read for Good on Wednesday of Libraries Week, cheering on some of the 28,000 children who are taking part in the city’s first mass Readathon. With money raised going to buy books for school libraries, Tom writes about why he rates them (and it’s not just for the royalties…)
It’s National Libraries week, which has got to be a cause for celebration, right? So let’s all raise our glasses to this most humble of super-heroes, the library!
Now, I know that the whole, ‘author proclaims libraries to be fantastic’ blog post is getting to be a bit of a cliché, but the reason for that is because (like all clichés) there’s truth in it! It wouldn’t have become a cliché otherwise.
And it’s nothing to do with the fact that authors get 7p every time someone takes one of our books out of the library… Err… Well, I mean that’s actually pretty handy, but I’d still be all, ‘Team Library’ even if I never saw any financial return from it. Now that I say, ‘Team Library’, it makes me wonder, what would the opposing side be called? Team Ignorance? Team Selfish? Team Isolation? So let’s go though what I think makes libraries great, one by one…
1. They’ve packed full of books, FREE books. Yes, it’s obvious I know, but we’ve got to start somewhere. And yes again, you can look up whatever book you like on the internet, but unless you are only reading out of copyright works or are downloading them ILLEGALLY (boo-hiss!) then they’ll cost you money, whereas the library books are freeeeeeeeeee!
2. They are staffed by well-trained, passionate professionals who are likely to know what book you mean even if you ask them, ‘Do have that book by the woman who won the big literary prize a few years back, I think her surname began with an J and the cover was blue.’
Go on! Give it a try (but don’t blame me if they don’t know what that book is, after all, I just made that one up.) Try typing vague questions like that into to Google and see what you get—the librarians will win every time.
3. There are people in libraries. Now, it seems to me that all the people who are keen to shut down libraries as a decadent waste of resources are completely lacking in empathy. Yes, I suppose if you can afford to buy any book you like on a whim, then it might be hard to imagine that some people can’t afford to. And if that’s the case then you would have no hope of understanding what it might mean to someone who is socially isolated to be able to spend time in a public space like a library. Libraries are community hubs, in the same way that high streets used to be. For some people it might be the only opportunity they have for a conversation that day.
4. Libraries are warm! I grew up in a caravan with no sensible form of heating. In winter it was cold. So cold that I often used to wake with frost on the inside of the windows and sometimes on the bed covers too. Brrr! So once a week when the mobile library pulled up outside the Post Office I would spend at least an hour making the most of it’s fully carpeted warmth. And when I say ‘fully carpeted’, I mean it! There was carpet on the walls and unless I’m very much mistaken, the ceiling too! To be fair, this should probably sit with the whole empathy point above, because you need to be able to understand what a lifeline it can be to leave a freezing cold home to go and sit somewhere warm for a couple of hours and read a book.
5. Finally and perhaps most importantly, they sometimes still have those AMAZING microfilm machines. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen them, but they’re awesome. They have huge amounts of information on film reels that you load into the machine and can look through like you’re a 1970’s detective investigating a cold case. Or you can research your family history or something sensible like that, but personally I just like to do the whole ‘pretend spy’ thing.
So there you go, my TOP FIVE reasons why libraries are great.
I’m in Leicester during Libraries Week cheering on schools running a citywide Readathon. Read for Good, the charity they’re supporting, has quietly donated almost £1 million to school libraries since 2010. Children on a Readathon (which schools have been running since 1984) are sponsored to read whatever they like/love because learning to love to read as a child is one of the greatest things you can do, especially in this information-rich age. The charity’s mission is to support children to love reading, but without a well-stocked and up to date school library and/or a trained librarian to guide children to discover the right books for them, then there’s real concern that this generation in particular will find it harder than ever to discover their own love of reading, with all the benefits that cascade through your ENTIRE life.
Go team library! #LeicesterReadathon #LibrariesWeek
Tom is cheering on children at an event at Leicester Racecourse on Wednesday 10 October and visiting a primary school in the afternoon as part of the Leicester City Readathon.
Tom Percival has been drawing since he's been able to hold a pencil, and making up stories for as long as he can remember, in fact, probably longer, especially as his memory is not what it once was. Basically, he's been making things up his whole life and he's not about to stop any time soon. He’s written and illustrated picture books like Perfectly Norman and Ruby’s Worry as well as the Little Legends series. He illustrates Skullduggery Pleasant for older children, and creates videos and animations for anyone who wants one made. He writes songs, plays guitar and sings in a band called Grasscourt and doesn’t get as much sleep as he probably should. He is very bad at dancing, his eight times tables and coming up with biographies.
Watch Tom's message to Leicester schools here.