‘The magic of libraries’: Why we
need them, by Joseph Coelho
Author Joseph Coelho mounts a passionate defence of libraries – and explains how they really help our communities.
I grew up next to the best library in the world, West Hill Library – my beautiful, wood-panelled library. I lived just around the corner from it and spent my evenings and weekends among its wooded shelves: took part in the summer reading schemes, did my homework there, bought incomplete encyclopaedias from its constant book sale, met a girl I was too shy to talk to, and laughed like a hyena with my friends.
We’d slip ‘naughty’ books into each other’s bags and watch the drama unfold when the victim unknowingly set off the library alarm and had to explain why they had an embarrassingly titled book in their bag.
My first Saturday job was in the library and I can still remember the two old dears who came like clockwork every Saturday morning to browse and chat and offer advice. One day, one of them asked me if I was being good; before I answered, she told me quite firmly, ‘It’s hard, ain’t it, Joe: it’s hard to be good.’
I loved West Hill Library.
Libraries’ essential role
A couple of years ago my grandmother, who still lives in the area, sent me a newspaper clipping: the building was closed and up for sale.
Because of West Hill Library I’m passionate about the impact libraries can have not just on young minds but on families, on communities and therefore the world at large. I’ve attempted to manifest the magic of libraries in theatre shows that I tour to libraries up and down the country.
My debut picture book, Luna Loves Library Day, has been inspired by my work in the dwindling number of libraries across the UK: their magic has been beautifully brought to life in the book by Fiona Lumbers’ gorgeous illustrations.
In the book, Luna loves library day because every book she opens literally changes her surroundings. When Luna opens Maurice Mandible’s Bug Book, an insect-laden jungle appears among the shelves. The Book of Unexplained Mysteries makes creatures pop up between the book covers. But Luna also loves library day because it is the day that she gets to spend with her father, reading together.
Luna Loves Library Day is about the magic of libraries and the wonder of ink on paper; it’s about libraries’ essential role in helping and aiding families, in being a safe space for anyone and everyone to learn and to discover. I truly believe that it is only in such spaces that we can support our children and families and heal our communities.