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Books, New and Old

Updated: May 6, 2019

When I arrived on the Island it took a couple of weeks for us to have our internet connected. In that time I had to go to the local libraries, Ventnor and Shanklin (they open on different days so I had to alternate) to do my work. Libraries in this country are one story, libraries on the Island are a different story.

I took my gauge of Shanklin library upon asking for their Wi-Fi password. I was told ‘that’s a new request, no-one has ever asked for that before’. Before I was given the password, a lady came through the door straight up to the counter. She told the librarian that she wanted to read ‘the recent book by the dead person, you know the one, she didn’t write much’. The librarian was understandably baffled. Embarrassingly I seemed to be on the same wavelength as the requester, and pitched in, quietly, that it might be Harper Lee she was asking about. Indeed it was, and it earned me a suspicious look from the librarian as she went off to get Go Set a Watchman. I was silently given the password, found a cosy place to sit, always easy to find in a library, and settled down to my work.

Raising my head when my work got a little tedious - after only a few minutes - I noticed a table of five very old people, all sitting with a book in front of them. A couple of these looked like they only had minutes left to live. I (patronisingly) admired them for struggling out of the door to the library. I put my head back down and got on with my work.

After several minutes a pre-school class came through the door, headed over to the children’s corner and sat down to listen to a story read by their teacher – it was The Gruffalo! She then explained to them how libraries work and set them looking through the books themselves to pick one out they might like. They chatted as they did this, and I looked up at the old folks table to see their reaction, expecting them to complain at the noise. Instead I saw broad smiles on their faces as they watched the children scouring the shelves. A few minutes later their smiles grew even wider when the kids sat down in a circle and starting singing songs. I’m sure I will never forget the faces of those old people as the children sang ‘If You’re Happy and You Know it’. To me, stuck in the right in the middle, literally and figuratively, it was a very poignant sight. It then struck me that the main purpose of the old people’s visit was to see the children. They knew what time the kids came, and they made sure they were there at that time, simply to hear the children sing.

I drove home thinking of the scene, more warmed to libraries even than before.

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