A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
The library. The closest thing to the wardrobe doors of Narnia. My children not being partial to Saturday sport (alas, an aversion to round flying objects and moving one’s legs fast is in the genes), the library’s also our weekend playing field. It’s my go to for research and recreation. And since I was knee-high, my portal to magical worlds where I can be anyone but myself (the girl with an aversion to round flying objects).
Nowadays, it’s hard to talk about libraries, without talking about saving them. And we have to talk about that. Because we can’t lose our libraries. We bloody can’t. But I want to talk about the people who staff them. Not the finger-shushing, squeaking trolley wheels, looking over their glasses stereotype. Librarians aren’t that. They’re powerful beings. They’re the guardians of those magical portals. They help you over the stile into a different world. And blink with you as you stare into a new light.
And right now, these guardians are as much in peril as the libraries they protect.
I’m in my local library quite a lot (use it or lose it) and I watch these magical guardians do much more than quietly open the door into new worlds. They patiently help the elderly navigate the internet. Energetically suggest a new title to a child. Help a knackered parent find the time to browse for themselves. I hear them giggle and chat, I see them hug and empathise. I watch them connect and relate and show us the way to weave our own magic through stories both imagined and real.
They’re professionally trained and highly educated in their profession. Many have years upon years of experience and additional expertise. So it’s with a heavy heart I also have to watch these guardians endure cut after cut to their hours and working practice, to their budgets for purchasing new books, to the worlds and way of life (a kind, compassionate one) they promote.
And it doesn’t stop there. Their very profession is being undermined by an increasing trend towards handing over libraries to the community, to be volunteer-run.
I don’t know about you, but I trust someone who’s been trained in magic world guardianship (most to degree level) – it’s a pretty special role, and not everyone can do it. I trust their knowledge and their expertise and the sense of professionalism and development in their heart. No criticism of the volunteer – but their training is basic, if there at all. Worse, it allows for a culture of censorship in communities. Where children and teenagers are told what they can and can’t read depending on the personal beliefs of said volunteers. It relies on local fundraising to raise the money to buy new books – if books are even bought (many just ask for donations).
Giving over the keys of the guardians to volunteers demeans the qualifications, training and vocation (because it is vocational) of librarianship. It takes a great deal of experience and knowledge, and a certain type of nature, to become guardians of magical worlds.
I don’t know much about the intake for library studies at university level, but with the reduction in the profession’s jobs, it must surely be dwindling. And with it I hear those portal doors clunking shut. I see guardians replaced by those who mean well but don’t know enough. Who too often let their subjectivity influence their book selection; who maybe *sharp intake of breath* don’t even believe in magic.
To keep the doors to Narnia open, to keep those portal lights burning, we need to keep investing in our magical guardians. We need them to know what they mean to us. Visit a library. Lots. And keep spreading librarian love. Because – like the libraries they guard – once they’re gone. They’re gone for good.