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Act Of Faith

by Jeff Phelps on October 3rd, 2010

Victor Hugo apparently said that a library was ‘an act of faith.’

I’ve been thinking about libraries because I’ve been asked to open the new Shropshire Youth Bridgnorth Centre Library in Bridgnorth on Tuesday 5th October.

The first library I got to know was Wallasey in Cheshire, where I went with my Dad most Saturdays.  Last year I went back to read from my novel, set in New Brighton.  I felt honoured to go back to where I’d first borrowed books and to read from my own novel and to see it on the shelves.

Wallasey Library
Wallasey Library

The librarian told me Wallasey was a Carnegie Library – one of about 660 in Britain and Ireland which had been part funded by Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish American millionaire, in the late 19th and early 20th Century.  They are all based on the same principles – open stacks  (what a revelation to be able to see and choose books yourself), a centrally located librarian’s desk and steps to the main entrance to represent the uplifting power of knowledge.  Most, as this one, had a light over the entrance to represent the illuminating power of education.

That was all lost on the five year old me of course.  In those days I probably wanted to get in, borrow my ration of picture books and get out again.  But when I returned last summer it seemed a welcoming and uplifting place with its glass dome and grand staircase to an upper meeting room.  (OK, it’s probably cold and is hopeless for buggies and wheelchairs)

What it really represented was a belief that education – books and learning – could set people free, and should be available to all.  It was a wonderful vision.  It’s still a great idea today.

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