A Love Letter to Norwich City Library
As a child I was lucky to grow up with a mother that valued books above all other possessions and the house was full of books. At school I would come home with the Puffin Club Book magazine and Mum would always say yes to my choice. She had no concept of books not being suitable or age appropriate. Although in fairness the Puffin Book Club didn’t really stray beyond the boundaries. I remember teachers getting twitchy if you selected books to read that were too advanced for you. Even as I learnt to read, I hated being told that a book was too hard for me. It had a trunkful of treasure on the front page! That book had my name all over it. Happily, I was a quick learner and soon all the reading scheme books were available to me.
When we moved closer to the city, I joined Norwich Library. It was a big old concrete cube with flint walls on the outside and a fountain in the courtyard that was nice to drag your hands through. It was full of glass and thin windows making it cold in winter and impossibly stuffy in summer.
Children should be silent and out of sight
I was about ten when I joined, and I was sent straight upstairs to the children’s section where I received three brown pocket envelopes. My library tickets! To be exchanged for any book of my choice, free and forever. To get upstairs you had to climb a horrible wooden slat staircase that I was always convinced I would somehow fall through. The children’s section was well stocked, but the librarians were an unfriendly lot, or maybe I was just unlucky. They always seemed to watch suspiciously. I would return a book and tell them how much I had enjoyed it. They never told me that that author had written other stories or even that I had picked a book halfway through a series. It would have been nice to know that there was a book after the Dark is Rising. That Monica Hughes wrote more than one book and so on but in their lack of interest was also great freedom. No book was too hard for me or not a girl’s book.
What I really loved about the library though was speaking to one of the adult librarians and asking if I could explore the downstairs sections. With a smile I was waved through and now here were librarians that filled me with joy. They took time to show me around, from the normal adult lending section to the research sections, the antiquarian archives deep in the bowels and the American military section, I didn’t go in there much, it seemed very dull compared to the leather bound tomes down in the basement.
For a year I borrowed from the children’s section and prowled the adult section. During the summer holidays the library issued a treasure trail quiz of hundreds of questions based around the city. I would spend weeks exploring the city trying to answer the questions and at the end of summer I would hand in my answer sheet. I went back a few years ago with my own children but the library don’t do it anymore and in fact they didn’t even know what I was talking about.
The following summer, the downstairs librarians decided that whilst I wasn’t strictly old enough for an adult tick they issued me one anyway.
My favourite book
The first book I borrowed was Birds of the Galapagos. I would borrow it. Return it. Leave it on the shelf in case anyone else wanted it and then borrow it again a day later. I did this for months. I have no recollection of when I stopped or why. Maybe I moved away, maybe it fell apart, but that was my first book obsession.
Norwich library was a place of great freedom and safety, I would spend all day wandering around those shelves, a ten year old full of wonder and was never once challenged by an adult. I would prowl the aisles and the corridors, or I would simply just find a corner and sit and read for hours. Happy, warm, dry and free.
Many years later I became a librarian myself having graduated from Aberystwyth. I spent years in private, academic, public and schools’ libraries. I was in charge of one, then many, but I never loved any of them the way I loved Norwich Library. When it burnt down I was filled with horror and now my favourite library only exists in my memory.
Today’s city library sits on the same spot and it’s a rather lovely piece of architecture. It is now a “forum” and contains food halls and shops and entertainment spaces as well as the actual library. I imagine that there are still ten year olds that claim it as there own space, and good luck to them. Hopefully, their adventures are as much fun as mine have been.
I haven’t made it to the islands yet, but they are still on my list.
Liz Hurley as well as being the owner of this blog, runs a bookshop in Cornwall, right by the sea and writes books. You can buy them in her shop (of course), Waterstones and other outlets, as well as Amazon.
When she’s not reading, she’s writing and when she’s not writing, she’s walking. And when she’s not doing any of that she’s binging on box sets and sleeping.
This website is for her fictional works. Her Cornish non-fiction titles and walking guides can be found at www.dreamingofcornwall.com