NON-FICTION//Reading Allowed: True Stories and Curious Incidents from a Provincial Library- Chris Paling


My love of libraries is well known and so OF COURSE I bought this book when I saw it earlier this year. I also had a short stint as a library casual when I first moved to Brighton, so I have a bit of experience as a library worker.

As I read on, I started to twig that the ‘provincial library’ is the very library I worked in (and frequent), Jubilee Library in Brighton. There were little clues: the mention of ‘channel 16’ for the walkie talkies; the description of the building as an award winning eco-friendly one; the description of one of the security staff; the fact that there’s both a cafe and a shop (how many libraries have those?) It was the description of Children’s that clinched it though- it’s a distinctive space that D and I have spent HOURS in, especially when he was tiny. I do have a bit of an issue of the library being described as ‘provincial’- surely that tag belongs to little libraries in places like Hebden Bridge or Todmorden. But then, I guess if you’re part of the London Liberal Elite™, anything outside of the M25 does count as provincial (I am kidding. Sort of.) I guess being northern I have a different idea of what the term means…

Anyway, the book itself is fun. There are a wide range of characters in the book, some I recognised, and the author (a novelist who moonlights as a librarian) does a great job of bringing them to life. Brighton is full of ‘characters’ and they’re drawn to the library because it’s probably the largest free building in the city (the museum had to start charging last year, which is a shame, as the cafe was amazing.) But beneath the affectionate tone, there’s a serious message: the book was written at a time when the library service was facing the biggest cuts in its history. I remember this- our little branch library lost both its librarians and became unstaffed for 6 days out of 7. My aunt, who had worked for the service for years, took voluntary redundancy. The misery and the mood is a theme that runs through much of the book and reminds us of a stark truth: that libraries will die if we do not fight for them.

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