It’s not often I get the chance to have my grandsons all to myself, but with a rare spot of time on my hands, I could not resist asking to take them out of nursery for an afternoon and just spending time with them.
But…they are a pre-schooler and a toddler, so the whiling away of a few hours in idle lolling about in a park is impractical if not impossible. At least, I’ve never encountered under-fives who just loll about. They are far too busy nosing into every nook and cranny that life has to offer them. That is how kids explore the world about them and learn about the richness that life has to offer if you go out there and actively live it.
So I could fight neither my nature nor theirs and decided that we had to do something different. On a hot, humid afternoon, I plumped for something indoors that would hopefully keep us cool and interested.
Now, I have always loved libraries. I am an avid reader and have been since I was a pre-schooler. I love book shops and though I own an e-reader for convenience (and the easy option larger print that I can use sneakily!) I prefer the feel and smell of a printed book. So, introducing the grand-kids to a library when I knew they already enjoyed books was decision that came to me pretty naturally.
And we were not at all disappointed. Gibraltar’s library at the John Mackintosh Hall is small, and, despite computers and internet availability, pretty old-fashioned. But, it was deliciously air-conditioned (big plus in August), the children’s corner was bright, with lots of books available and at children’s eye level which helps them browse for themselves without the constant interference of grown ups, scatter cushions on the floor and child-sized tables and chairs. I think some of the stuff on the shelves may have been there since I was a member of the library in the 1960s, but that’s ok – they were good stories then and are good stories now. The atmosphere was relaxed and we enjoyed a pleasant hour choosing books, browsing, reading stories and meeting other kids and their parents.
The librarians were two very pleasant ladies who explained how the kids could become members of the library. We ended up talking about the digitisation programme that they are currently working on. I had asked if there were any story telling sessions for children, but sadly, although there had been some in the past, there are none at the moment. But the librarians turned determined eyes on me and declared that as soon as digitisation was complete, they would turn their minds on just this type of event to draw the public in.
At a time when all information is digitised and books can be read on electronic devices, there are those who wonder whether libraries are a thing of the past, an expense that taxpayers could well do without. I would argue that libraries are one of civilisation’s greatest achievements, one of society’s great equalisers. Libraries educate and inform those who cannot afford education. They introduce literature, news, ideas, and creativity to those who otherwise might not be able to afford to access these. They can be a focal point for local communities, somewhere to sit and rest and read on rainy days or overly hot days, a place for those who perhaps do not socialize to engage quietly with the world of ideas. A wonderful resource in any community.
The boys and I spent a wonderful hour in the library. I really hope that Gibraltar’s library will learn from the modernization of libraries across the world – it’s not size that counts, it’s creative use of scarce resources, something we Gibraltarians are extremely good at, that really counts as well as enthusiasm and a good dose of determination, which those librarians seem to have aplenty. I’d like to see story time sessions not just for young children but for adults too – story telling is intrinsic to human communication and rapidly becoming a lost art. The boys and I will be visiting much more regularly from now on, and I would encourage everyone to do so: digital age or otherwise, books are still a window to wisdom.