I've spent a good deal of my life in libraries - including 15 years working as a reference librarian - and yet these days I seldom set foot in one. The internet provides me with virtually all I need - and that, I imagine, is true for ever increasing numbers of people. But it saddens me that public libraries are closing - or being threatened with closure - all over the country, and I hope very much that Cameron's 'Big Society' (if it means anything) might come into its own here, that people will take them over and manage to keep them open by their own co-operative efforts.
It was through public libraries that I found my way into reading - real reading - and as often as not it was a book picked off the shelf on little more than a whim that changed everything, opening up a new path that would enlarge my mind and soul and become part of my life. When I was still at school, I was mooching around in my small local public library, idly scanning the shelves, when I spotted a title I thought might be worth a look. I knew the author only as a playwright who had caused a bit of a stir in the Fifties, but this appeared to be a novel. It might be interesting, I thought, picking it up. It was bound, I remember, in a muddy blue 'library binding', unpleasing to the eye and the hand alike, and on its spine was stamped in ugly black letters 'Molloy. S. Beckett'. I opened it and read: 'I am in my mother's room. It's I who live there now. I don't know how I got there...'
I was hooked. I read Molloy with amazed delight and moved on to devour every Beckett I could get my hands on. And now, more than 40 years on, when most of my youthful literary enthusiasms have long since died the death, I am still reading (or rather rereading) Beckett. I have just finished rereading Malone Dies, and it seems to me every bit as wonderful - no doubt in different ways - as it was to me then, more than 40 years ago. And this lifelong, ever-deepening love affair I owe to a chance find on the Fiction shelves of a suburban branch library. Could such things happen in the librariless or library-lite future that seems to be on its way?