Last month I went to the RHS Lindley Library for the first time and now I can’t wait to go back; the talk about the language of flowers by Brent Elliott was wonderful, and the library itself is a beautiful space.
I’ve had a thing about libraries ever since I first went to my local library in Welling in Kent. I even remember the name of the librarian in the children’s section (which was a big room on the first floor) – she was called Miss Frost and she was not frosty at all! She was tall and had a brown perm and I think she wore glasses, I’m not sure, but she smiled most of the time. If you’d been to the library a couple of times, she would remember your name and chat to you when you came in, which was so sweet. I think perhaps it was the first time that I remember someone going out of their way to be nice to me, not because they were my family or a teacher or a school friend, but because they were just that sort of person. It was a few years before Matilda by Roald Dahl was published, but Miss Frost was a bit like a cross between the librarian and Miss Honey.
There was a scheme to encourage children to read every summer. You were given a little card that had different genres of books and a space to write down the name of the book. Once you’d read a book, Miss Frost would write it down in your card. Then you’d choose another from another genre. I remember the genres included adventure, romance, non-fiction, poetry and animal stories. Maybe horror, too. Once you’d read six different types of book, you got a badge, and then you got a new card to go away and fill with new books that you’d read. There was a small ceremony at the end of each summer, when you got a certificate for reading so much. I’m trying to remember the books I read as part of the scheme. I’m sure Treasure Island was ‘adventure’, The Voyage of QV66 was an ‘animal story’, The Hypnotiser by Michael Rosen was ‘poetry’ and either The Reluctant Vampire or the sequel, The Vampire’s Revenge, by Eric Morecambe was ‘horror’. Yes, that’s right - Eric Morecambe of Morecambe and Wise wrote a children’s book about vampires decades before Twilight.
I really hope they still have schemes like this for children. I have a friend who is a librarian and I know that many local libraries are either shutting or facing terrible cutbacks. Not only are good children’s libraries great for children, I suspect they are also a blessing for parents during school holidays. I used to spend my holidays playing with the kids on my street on the road (something I imagine people don’t do much now because of fears of safety), watching cartoons, or reading book after book, and I didn’t complain about being bored when I was at home. Not to say I didn’t whine about plenty of other kid problems!