My Catchphrases

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Saturday Spotlight: Guest Post: Simon Mason: Libraries are Precious


As a Librarian I love hearing stories about how other people view libraries and the influence it has had on them. Today it is my pleasure to host Simon Mason author of Moon Pie with his feelings about libraries. Over to Simon:

When I was a kid growing up in Sheffield in the 1960s and 1970s I went once or twice a week to my local library in Ecclesall, a small and unassuming place full of wonders. Here I read all the Enid Blyton novels I could lay my hands on, and the Brer Rabbit stories, and the Moomintroll books, and Wind in the Willows, and, later, the ‘Narnia’ books and The Lord of the Rings – and dozens of other books whose titles I have forgotten but which worked their magic on me just the same. I went there to events and activities too, and to hear recordings of books on vinyl disks – and, of course, I took it all for granted.

It was always full. Thatcher closed it in the eighties. Not needed, apparently. Which is odd because, as soon as possible, a great deal of fuss was made locally to start it up again – and, twenty years later, it’s still going strong. I bet it’s still full too.

Now I live in Oxford. When our children were small we went once a week to the Children’s Section of the Central library, to get books. Picture books at first, then ‘chapter books’, then proper novels. Lots of different stuff. One of the great beauties of a library is the choice it offers, the freedom to follow your nose, to just grab something and run with it. We used to grab indiscriminately: ‘What about a spy thriller? What about a book of African folk tales? How about this facts book on the Arctic?’ We found authors the kids liked, and read all their books. We found a subject the kids loved – on Whales or Birds or Victorian Poisoners – and read everything on it we could (there was always lots). And if we ran out of ideas or energy, there was always the librarian to ask. She looked a bit fierce, but she was lovely – and incredibly knowledgeable.

Now my children are grown up. I go to the library on my own, once or twice a week, getting books for myself or my wife. I follow my nose. I try this, I try that. I know now that the library is something so rich I will never come to the end of it. Unless the council, forced to make cuts, decide to close it down. And they might well, actually. After all, people can buy books if they want them, can’t they? I’d love someone from the council to spend a bit of time in the library. See how full it always is. See people, not just borrowing books, but borrowing DVDs, CDs, using the internet, using the local history centre – see ideas taking hold of people, see thoughts growing in the minds of the children.

Something so precious is surely worth preserving.

Simon Mason is a novelist for adults and children. His novel for 9+ readers, Moon Pie, is out now. He is also the author of The Rough Guide to Classic Novels – a book about some of the fantastic books he has borrowed from libraries.

Someone has to keep their head, as Mum used to say, and 11-year-old Martha is used to being that someone in her family. Her little brother, Tug, is too small. Her dad has been acting too strange. And Mum's not here anymore.
So when Dad falls off the roof, it's Martha who ices his knee and takes him to the doctor. And when Dad doesn't come home, it's Martha who cooks Tug's favorite pie and reads him his bedtime story. And when Dad passes out, it's Martha who cleans him up and keeps his secret.
But eventually Dad's problems become too big for even Martha to solve, and she realizes it's not all up to her—there are people and places she can turn to

Get the lowdown on the best fiction ever written. Over 230 of the world’s greatest novels are covered, from Quixote (1614) to Orhan Pamuk’s Snow (2002), with fascinating information about their plots and their authors – and suggestions for what to read next. The guide comes complete with recommendations of the best editions and translations for every genre from the most enticing crime and punishment to love, sex, heroes and anti-heroes, not to mention all the classics of comedy and satire, horror and mystery and many other literary genres. With feature boxes on experimental novels, female novelists, short reviews of interesting film and TV adaptations, and information on how the novel began, this guide will point you to all the classic literature you’ll ever need.
(I think I really want this book)

Thank you so much to Simon for such a terrific and topical guest post.


  1. What a brilliant post- it made me feel a bit weepy! I still go to (and work in) some of the libraries I went to as a child and see children take out the same books that I did years ago. How can politicians decide that this sort of experience could be unnecessary? I really hope that libraries manage to survive these difficult times.

  2. I love visiting the library, especially the one that is beside my mum(my childhood library). It is in the most beautiful stone building and although it can be cold in winter, it is perfect for an afternoon's browsing.

    Great post

  3. Fab guest post, and one I'm sure many can relate to :)

    As a child I went to our local library with my parents, and later by myself as a teen. I even enjoyed work experience there. Sadly that particular library was closed down and staff dispersed elsewhere...I recently met up with the one of the members of staff and she's now a manageress of another library and calls all us ex-work experience people her children :)

    As a prior home educator I have to say that the library is a support unsurpassed for service and resources. For what it's worth, many home educators can't afford to buy many books...many are single income families because of the nature of home ed. So for us at that time, the library really came into it's own.

    We've continued the library tradition in our household...we used to pop in at least every other day when we home it's more like once a week. Do our children love books?? You bet!!

  4. What a wonderful guest post! I really, truly love your guest posts/interviews about how important libraries are. Keep 'em coming :)


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