Following the furore about British children’s author Terry Deary’s views on libraries, I would like to make my own contribution to this discussion. Those who read my blog regularly will know that I am a compulsive book-buyer, and therefore libraries are not the place I go for my book-fix. But this was not always the case. Once upon a time I was a frequent visitor of my local library.
While growing up one of my favourite places to go after school was my local library. The Rikhardinkatu Library is a Neo Renaissance style building, built in 1881. It was the first building in the Nordic countries designed to be a public library and it served as the city’s main library until 1986, when a new modern library opened in Pasila. But it is still the most frequented library in Helsinki.
Any building filled with books is beautiful to me, but the Rikhardinkatu library has the added charm of a beautiful interior. When I was young this was the only public library I visited, so I took for granted the magnificent building, imagining that all libraries were the same. Little did I know how many rather boring libraries were out there. I spent most of my time in the children’s department on the ground floor, wandering along the shelves making discoveries, but once I began venturing into the high ceilinged hallways of the library, I discovered the amazing world of this magical building.
The first floor was the place to go for school projects. Here were to be found non-fiction books on all kind of subjects. I remember finding a book that collected news articles from every day for the last hundred years. Already back then the aspiring writer in me imagined this might come in handy one day. But the most impressive part of the room was the spiral staircase that led to the lovely galleries that circled the room. The galleries contained adult fiction and this is where I cautiously began making friends with the books that I would come to love later. The galleries themselves where a wonderful place to be. I was high above the first floor but there were plenty of places to hide among the shelves. From the galleries one could also access the other floors, and I remember discovering an entire department of English language books hidden on the top floor of the building. I was fascinated by how different the covers of the English books looked, and by the large number of fantasy books to be found among them.
Nowadays I rarely go to libraries, preferring to buy my books. And I do buy many of them. But without my local library, I might never have read enough books as a child to make me the faithful supporter of authors and the publishing industry, that I am today. We were not a wealthy family and the books that my parents bought me were always what they could find at the secondhand bookstore. And even those would never have been enough to support my voracious reading appetite. Closing libraries is the worst possible idea if the aim is to save the livelihoods of authors. It is the children browsing library shelves today that are the book-buyers of tomorrow.
I have not visited my childhood library since I moved away from Helsinki 16 years ago. Every time I go back to Finland I plan to visit, but somehow there is never time. This also means I have to admit that the beautiful pictures of the library were not taken by me, but that I found them on the internet. The spiral staircase is taken by Lea Kömi, and comes from her blog http://leakomi.blogspot.be/. The two pictures of the hallway and galleries come from http://nailla-mennaan.blogspot.be/ and the picture of the building is from Wikipedia.