When I was a kid, my community was served by a mobile library. From the moment I could read to my late teens, I lived for the weekly visit of this big bus that was stuffed from floor to ceiling with books.
Every Thursday I’d be waiting with my stack of the previous week’s books, standing on a bit of spare land that used to be the site of a coal mine. The bus would pull up and I’d climb the stairs, hand in the books I’d read, and turn to face Wonderland.
That’s what it felt like to me. A narrow corridor that was nevertheless bursting with new worlds. The children’s section was at the back, and I read it all. The driver and librarian was a man with white hair – I thought at the time he was old but now I reckon it was just his pigmentation. He was probably not very old at all. I’d read all the children’s books and didn’t know what to read next. He handed me a thick paperback and said, “I think you might like this.”
He wasn’t wrong. It was a book called Decades, and was filled with science fiction stories from the 1940s. I devoured them all. I was hooked. They also had subsequent volumes, SF from the 50s, the 60s… I was maybe nine, maybe ten. This was my gateway to SF and fantasy. After that followed collections of Ray Bradbury stories, Frederik Pohl, Heinlein… I couldn’t get enough of it. I wrung that mobile library dry. I read anything and everything they had to offer.
This coming Saturday is National Libraries Day. Libraries have never been more needed, nor more under threat. I’ll be at Mirfield Library, Kirklees, West Yorkshire, between 2pm and 3.30pm on Saturday, talking about writing, the Gideon Smith books, and libraries. Do come along: