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This book is a fascinating collection of essays about the importance of libraries. Even though I used to be a librarian myself nearly forty years ago I have felt recently that libraries have lost the plot and in some cases have ceased to provide a good service. Maybe things need shaking up and changing but having read this book I am completely opposed to closures of libraries. I believe they are absolutely essential to our society today.

If you have always been well off and able to afford to buy books then maybe you do not realise what it's like to live in a house with no books and no prospect of buying any. I was brought up by parents who enjoyed reading but who didn't own a large collection of books. As a family we visited the library on a regular basis and it was a highlight of my life. I too remember spending happy hours in Armley Public library in Leeds as did Alan Bennet who recalls his childhood and student life in and around Leeds in his contribution to this book. I too spent a great deal of time in Leeds City Reference Library - often reading about King Richard III, when I should have been writing essays on other subjects entirely.

I agree with Seth Godin `the scarce resource is knowledge and insight, not access to data'. He makes a powerful case for librarians to be regarded as guides and gatekeepers providing information and insight not just acting as forbidding custodians to the resources of their libraries. Books can change lives as demonstrated by Stephen Fry when as a boy of thirteen he read about the trials of Oscar Wilde. Books can inspire people to make huge changes in their lives and they can inspire children to gain qualifications even though their parents may not encourage them. `Libraries are places of cultural importance, where magic happens and where dreams begin.' As Ann Cleeves put it.

Libraries are oases of calm where children and adults can go to escape from difficult home circumstances - they are a refuge for people from all classes and all educational attainments. Even with the prevalence of internet access people still need access to books. What will happen to children from deprived homes who want to read for entertainment or for education? If we close libraries we close off access to opportunities for people who cannot afford to buy their own books. In times of recession access to libraries is even more important than it is in times of a flourishing economy. When people are struggling to pay their bills the first things to go may be the purchase of books and access to the internet.

Reading is fundamental to living in modern society. We need to be able to read to find our way around and to access services and education. Reading to improve our knowledge of the world or to gain better qualifications is vital to the economy. We need an educated work force. To close libraries is to exclude a large number of the poorest in society from the chance to improve their lives, to exclude them from hope and to deprive a generation of children of opportunity. Libraries are not a middle class perk they are a working class necessity.
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on 17 June 2012
On first glance, this collection of essays by famous people about why they love libraries is the kind of book that could easily turn out to be terrible reading.

Except it isn't.

These pieces are all written by people with a genuine passion for libraries and fond memories associated with these havens of books.

If you need convincing further, read the list of contributors. From Britain's National Treasure Stephen Fry to the Grand Dame of Thriller Writing, Val McDermid to Manic Street Preachers' Lyricist Nicky Wire - every single one writing about their love of a library.

Read it, enjoy it and share the library-love!
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on 5 February 2012
If you have ever benefited from a library in any way, shape or form you will love this book. The collection of stories and personal library experiences will make you laugh, smile and most of all want to jump up, dig out your dusty library card and go and explore your local library. At least that's how it made me feel! I loved it, definitely would recommend.
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on 20 November 2012
Libraries gave us power! This collection of essays and short stories is, as these collections usually are, a mixed bag - some are very slight indeed, but most are good and some excellent - Alan Bennett's stands out. The essays are split between childhood memories of libraries and thoughts on what libraries could and should be in the future, but a sense of urgency unites them all. Libraries are under threat and this collection serves as a call to arms against the neoliberal / barbarian hordes who would have them closed. As one of the contributors says, "we need to shift our national view of libraries not as luxuries, but as necessities".
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This collection of twenty-three essays and short stories celebrates the influence and importance of libraries. It was written as part of an initiative to secure greater funding for public libraries in the United Kingdom. Some persons, places, and events referenced by the authors will be unfamiliar to an American reader. But the book transcends its original purpose and can be entertaining and informative to readers and borrowers outside of the UK.

Some of my favorite chapters are:

Alan Bennett's "Baffled at a Bookcase" contains some well-chosen excerpts, such as this one from "Me, I'm Afraid of Virginia Wolf": "Hopkins was never without a book. It wasn't that he was particularly fond of reading; he just liked to have somewhere to look. A book makes you safe. Shows you're not out to pick anybody up. Try it on. With a book you're harmless. Though Hopkins was harmless without a book."

Seth Godin's "The Future of the Library" praises librarians as much more than custodians of books. "The librarian isn't a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user."

China Mieville's "The Booksteps" accompanies a girl who comes to school prepared for a visit to the library. Over-prepared, it seems at first.

Tom Holland's "The Library of Babylon" begins with a discussion of Jorge Luis Borges' "Library of Babel." The author then describes the historical library of Babylon and leads readers on a tour of other famous historical libraries. He lends depth to our sometimes simplistic view of libraries as unassuming buildings full of cluttered bookshelves.

Not all of the offerings are as entertaining. There are too many breathless reimaginings of formative childhood experiences in and near libraries. None of them are actually bad, but there are just too many, highlighting their common images, emotions, and lessons learned. This makes them seem cliché-ridden--more than they should. More targeted invitations to contribute and a stronger editorial hand might have prevented or corrected for this.

Still, it's a fairly good collection and worth your selective attention.
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The contents are all in a good cause and probably worth the price for the Alan Bennett contribution alone. Not all the entries are by any means as entertaining or illuminating, but overall a pleasant little book – and it is a slender volume – suited to a quick browse before sleep arrives. Nonetheless, despite a feeling that I should be charitable, I can’t help suspecting that with a little more energy the publishers might have found more lively contributors.
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When I read the comment, "I have, thanks to twenty years of more-or-less frenzied purchasing, more books than I can now read in a lifetime," (Lucy Mangan) then I know I am in company I understand. This collection of essays, memoirs and stories, are a plea to value and keep our libraries. There are twenty three well known writers who have partipated in this book and they are often amusing, but always with a serious point to make. Several make the point that they owe their career to their local libraries. Val McDermid claims that "being a reader turned me into a writer," and the library is always viewed as a haven, a place of amusement, a place of study, a place of wonder.

In my own life I have worked in libraries, educational rather than local, but I know they are cherished places. They are where I took my own children as toddlers for their first experience of storytime and baby rhyme time sessions. Places I myself studied in, before helping students myself as a librarian. I am a mother, a reading mentor and an obsessive reader. There is a lot to be said not only for keeping libraries open, but for keeping them local. In my own area, we are seeing the closure of small, local libraries and the opening of central libraries. However, Zadie Smith makes the essential point that, "I know I would never have seen a single university library if I had not grown up living a hundred yards from that library in Willesden Green. Local libraries are gateways not only to other libraries, but to other lives." Central libraries require travel and for those children whose parents are not willing or able to make the effort, for the elderly, the ill and the marginalised, local services need to remain just that - within walking distance. Libraries should be the heart of a community - for the young person who has nowhere quiet to study at home they provide peace, for others they provide company and a link to the world.

All royalties from this book go to the Reading Agency's library programmes. Not only is this a good read, but it is in a good cause. We must beware the loss of our local library - once closed, it will never reopen.
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VINE VOICEon 16 November 2012
I have to admit that I don't usually bother with short storied or collections of essays but this book contained writing by so many of my favourite authors/ journalists that I thought I would give it a go.
The collection contains short stories and fragments all centring around libraries, their significance and importance and the impact the current cuts might have on library services and the community at large.

Highlights for me included the autobiographical piece by Caitlin Moran; Lucy Magan's rules for borrowing books from her hypothetical library and a more political piece by Zadie Smith. The only piece I was really disappointed by was the essay by Alan Bennett, which lacked his usual verve and humour, but I the other pieces more than made up for it.

Highly recommended.
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on 14 February 2012
This little book is an engaging collection of stories about libraries. Each author's contribution stands on its own; together they are a bouquet of red roses. I wish I could give this book to every librarian I've ever known.
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VINE VOICEon 14 May 2012
This is a great little collection for all those who feel that tingle up the spine when they step into a library, who have had their emotional lives saved by what lies between the covers of a book. Authors and other defenders of libraries come together in this collection, some of them speaking of how their lives were touched as children when they first fell in love with libraries, others speaking of the current situation and why libraries continue to be of abiding importance even in a digital age of ebooks, internet and online shopping. Of the importance of a place where you can take a chance on a book you might never have normally picked up, but also a place that brings people together. Heartwarming.
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