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Emma Holland: Life in Lockdown – The Library

Emma Holland is the pen name of a married mum of two children living in the North West. She has had enough of lockdown. She tweets at @Emma_Holland_

This morning I tried to use our local, council-run library with my two children (one primary aged, one at high school). Both kids are enthusiastic readers and we are usually frequent users of the library within a short walk from our house. I have in the past felt very lucky to have it there and believe very strongly that libraries are a vital community space and society-leveller. During this lockdown I have spent a second mortgage ordering real books at our independent bookshop, plus purchasing two kindles and a constant stream of eBooks. Not having spent money on a holiday or on activities that are still shut (swimming pool), cancelled (family festival) or apparently ‘full’ (National Trust park) I don’t grumble at spending this money, especially as it can be justified under the family budget heading ‘education’.

Having found out that the library was now open, the kids and I excitedly scoured the house for all the library books that had been read three times over and were now gathering dust. On entering the building, I could immediately see something was amiss, red tape and chairs placed to block areas within the library. I’d imagined things might be different, masks, hand gel, track and trace but what I wasn’t prepared for was that we after depositing the old books taken out in March, we were prohibited from choosing any new ones. Browsing was forbidden! Instead, we were allowed to choose a mystery parcel of no-longer-wanted, withdrawn books. These were organised and labelled by genre, then wrapped and tied with string. Good effort, nicely done, but a major disappointment. The kids chose a pack each although one of these we couldn’t even reach and the librarian had to hand it over to us apologising for having touched the parcel.

I’d clearly missed a vital detail. I thought the building I’d entered was a library. Instead we’d walked into a weird jumble sale. After re-checking the web details on our return, I realised that I should have made both children browse the online library all morning, work out if a book sounds ok, sent an order for a few random books and then collected them in six weeks’ time when they are finally returned, quarantined and then wrapped up during reduced opening hours – or in other words, lose interest completely in the reading process, give up and play Minecraft instead.

Needless to say, the parcels were not a great success. Out of the eight withdrawn-from-stock books, there was one each that they thought they would read and that was appropriate (the Young Adult range is fraught with landmines for the parent of a 12-year-old with a higher reading age.)

What can I do with the other books? The library doesn’t want them. Take them to a charity shop? No! We passed one on the way home. They were open for ‘dropping off goods by appointment only’ but I’m fed up of having to plan my life to that degree… Bonfire? No, that’s a dangerous route, never do that. Paper bin? That makes me sad. Pass them on to a neighbour or friend? Judging by the librarian’s concerns, would they even take them after I’d touched them?

My failed trip to the library has made me consider how many more tax-paid services are still reduced, cancelled, shut. I could do with my money back for some (all!) of them; I have books to buy.

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13 thoughts on “Emma Holland: Life in Lockdown – The Library

  1. Good to hear that your kids are avid readers.

    The ridiculous thing is that libraries, like the rest of society, didn’t give a fig every winter when flu and pneumonia were being spread, and wouldn’t have done again if there had been no Covid. It’s as though they’ve only just discovered transmissible illness.

  2. Why are you so resistant to The New Normal? Isn’t a minor inconvenience at your library worth a life?!?

    /sarc

    Seriously, it’s both sad and a bit uplifting to read of you finding creative ways to raise your kids when the environment suddenly changes – like caring parents have always done. Seeing how screwed up American Boomers are one wonders how much of their collective psychopathy was induced by hiding under desks in atom bomb drills, and how much damage we are imposing on the up and coming generations.

    Best of luck.

  3. Emma: “I have spent a second mortgage ordering real books at our independent bookshop”

    Out of interest, does your independent bookshop allow customers to peruse the shelves?

    With no convenient library or bookshop in my rural area, I have long been a customer of on-line used book dealers — abebooks, alibris, etc. Highly satisfied with the typical service; it avoids the need for that second mortgage; and delivery times through the mail are generally prompt.

    However, there is still something missing — the serendipity of finding an unexpected interesting title on a shelf while looking for a specific book. Just one of the many little pleasures in life that our Betters have taken from us — for our own good, of course!

  4. Gotta start writing our own stories. Time to remove the powers that be’s power. They have proven themselves to be not up to the task. Time to STAND UP.

  5. The Public Sector at its best, fully utilising an unparalleled opportunity to provide ever less of what people want and need and ever more convenience for its staff. Or do I mean “colleagues”, in the C21 parlance? I have little confidence we’ll ever go back to putting customers first.

    I know, I know – it’s not only the public sector but god knows, it’s mostly them.

    Keep on going, Ms Holland. Your kids are fortunate indeed, by the sound of it.

  6. Emma, here are some sites offering free (not pirated) ebooks. It may take a bit of searching to find works suitable for your children; however, by the time I was about 10 I was reading books meant for adults (wholesome ones, obvs).

    To “sideload” a downloaded Kindle-compatible file (typically with the .mobi suffix), the process is as follows. Connect the Kindle to your computer via USB, using the cable it came with. The Kindle will show up on the desktop as an external drive. Open it up and navigate to the “documents” folder, then drag the file to that. Finally eject the Kindle and the new ebook will appear after a few seconds on your Home page.

    If you have an .epub file that needs conversion, use Kindle Previewer (free from Amazon):

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000765261

    https://www.gutenberg.org/

    http://www.feedbooks.com/

    https://manybooks.net/

    https://archive.org/

    https://openlibrary.org/

    https://unglue.it/

  7. Thanks for taking the time to read my article everyone and for the comments and suggestions.
    In response to Gavin’s question:
    Yes it’s incredible that we can carefully browse in nearly any store but libraries must operate so very differently…

  8. Emma: “we can carefully browse in nearly any store but libraries must operate so very differently…”

    Perhaps because stores are there to serve the interests of their paying customers, whereas libraries are now there to serve the interests of their staff?

  9. Emma: “Yes it’s incredible that we can carefully browse in nearly any store but libraries must operate so very differently…”

    More incredible is that had Covid not happened then we would still have been able to browse libraries potentially spreading flu and pneumonia. If that was acceptable then why is now any different, especially as the Covid epidemic is effectively over?

  10. What can I do with the other books? How can we obtain more books?

    John local Freegle, Freeshare, Freecycle, https://trashnothing.com/

    Cuts out all the middlemen

    Your council Library demonstrates why so much of public sector should be shut for ever & staff sacked

    I bet local private libraries are open
    https://www.independentlibraries.co.uk/the-london-library

    This one is
    https://www.londonlibrary.co.uk/reopening

    Private libraries are making a quiet comeback …

    @Gavin
    Spot on re public sector being useles and refusing to work. Why the hell did Sunak not furlough them? 80% pay until 31 Oct would have pressured many to go back to work

    Sturegeon last week: SNPland public sector closed until at least 31 Match 2021

    All for a virus less dangerous to all than Flu

  11. Good story to see how dysfunctional we have become as a society. Its very sad. I have started some passive resistance. Not wearing masks. When challenged or asked, just state ‘I am mask exempt’. No one can ask to see any proof or even ask why – apparently its against the law (2010 Disability Act). So far seems to work.

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