In this series writers celebrate a person who changed their lives. Kerry Hudson remembers the librarian who was always a kind, constant, gentle presence
I don’t know if you’ll remember me. Perhaps not, I must be one of so many, old and young, who found sanctuary in your tiny, chapel-like, library at the foot of what was ambitiously called a high street in Hetton-le-Hole, a Northumbrian mining village where all the mining jobs had been taken away.
I don’t remember your face as clearly as I would wish, but I do remember how you looked at me, and actually saw me. I was nine years old and standing at your desk asking not just for a book but for a way out, a path forward, for hope and an introduction to the bright future I might have if I only held on, if I didn’t give up. I remember you smiled at me warmly, or maybe you didn’t because it was the end of the day and you were tired, but it never really mattered because, with you, I just knew I was safe.
You were always there; a constant. A kind, supportive adult in times when I had few of those, who, if I asked you a question, would do your best to answer with kindness, patience and honesty. And when I was overwhelmed and confused because life seemed harsher than I’d imagined it could be, I would go to you and our brief interaction – one person being gentle to another, sharing a love of books that felt bigger than that small village with its big problems – would keep me going a bit longer.
I don’t know how to thank you, but I’ll try. Thank you for saving my life before I knew it needed saving. Thank you for understanding that books can be like medicine and therapy, and while they can’t transport you to a calmer home, they can make that home much more bearable. Thank you for knowing, too, that sometimes people haven’t come for the books at all.
Now I am grown-up I know how hard you must have worked, how much more you deserved to be paid. I understand that, if you’re still a librarian – I hope you are – your job has become so much more: that you’ll be helping people access the services they need, to apply for jobs and benefits; help students and new mums and the elderly to stay connected. You will have become a carer, social worker, tutor and youth worker, as well as a librarian. How lucky I was to have you. Please know that even as services are eroded and funding is gouged, because a library’s value has been reduced to mere footfall, that you forged the way for so many of us and we remember, we are grateful and we will fight for you and your colleagues.
For the little girl I was and for all the others like me for whom you provided a hope, a book, a promise of a future and kind words when they were needed, thank you.