24 November 2014
I wrote this in response to The Guardian’s assignment ‘Love letters to libraries’. I was thrilled when it was published on The Guardian’s website. See it here
and also read the other wonderful contributions.
Dear Mrs Van Heerden
When I was first married over 30 years ago, we lived in Allanridge, where you ran the one-room library singlehandedly. My husband was a mine geologist and he was the only person I knew when I arrived in the village. I had only a small collection of my own books, having been a student till then, with access to a well-stocked university library and very little money for spending on books. I was (and still am) an inveterate reader and your library, open three afternoons a week, saved my life.
Do you remember my coming in and scouring the shelves for something new to read? I didn’t often find anything that I hadn’t read before or that I really wanted to read. I decided to read every book in the library, whether I’d read it before or not, whether it was the kind of book I usually read or not. That is how I came to read Rider Haggard and Louis L’Amour.
You cottoned on to what I was doing and we kept track of my progress together – “You’re up to the Ms now”. I would smile, you would stamp my books and put the cards into my library pocket, and off I would go with my weekly allowance of five books. We were not there long enough for me to get to the Zs.
I wish now that I had talked to you more. I don’t know how the library was funded or even if you were paid for those afternoons. When I heard recently that the mine was closing, I thought I must thank you for that library, all those books I would never otherwise have read, and your dedication in never failing to open the doors on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons.
With many thanks and best wishes,