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In celebration of libraries (for me, it’s personal)

Our chief executive officer Alison talks about the importance of libraries to her and the community – and finds lots of reasons to celebrate National Libraries Day.

One of my first childhood memories is of being taken to the library by my mother as a preschooler and I remember choosing a book with a kangaroo in it.

I grew up in a single parent family and my mother worked every Saturday morning but she always made time to walk us about a mile to the library on a Saturday afternoon. I couldn’t wait to get home and start reading my four books, and by Sunday evening I was working my way through her choice, my brothers’ and those of my grandparents. I was probably the only 10 year old who read The Hobbit, western adventures, thrillers and romantic fiction at the same time!

There’s no doubt my pleasure in reading shaped my teenage ambition to work in the place where the books came from, and I was very lucky to have a weekend job in my local branch before I went off to train as a librarian at Aberystwyth university. From there I came to Suffolk.

So my relationship with libraries is probably 55 years old and it’s still going strong.

I have been privileged to work in Suffolk’s libraries for almost 37 years. Gulp. In that time, I’ve worked with children, schools, adults, vulnerable groups and spent most of my time thinking about how to help people make the most of our wonderful institution, and since 2012 I have had the honour to lead the mutual which has worked with community groups and staff to take our libraries from strength to strength.

I am also proud to be a chartered librarian.

If you read the national news you might think we are facing a time of shrinkage and decline. It’s true that the ways people use us have changed immeasurably. The balance of printed materials to electronic may have had the most profound impact as well as the generation of users whose default is digital. I don’t see any of this as a threat to what we are as long as we continue to adapt.

Children working on laptops

Children at a Code Club in our Lab.

In Suffolk Libraries we’ve added digital formats to our reading offer: you can borrow a Chromebook laptop in a library, and we offer free downloads of music, magazines and books, as well as iPad training Sessions.

We are about to launch our own reading campaign to help with the county’s literacy and we are working across Suffolk with cultural providers, the NHS and businesses. The opportunities and potential with all of these are endless.

I have always believed that libraries are there for people, from the moment they are born throughout their lives. They support formal and informal learning, offer a refuge and source of support for isolated, lonely and vulnerable people and support communities to do more for themselves. We employ some of the best, most talented people in the world – 93% of our staff believe we do an important job for the community, and 93% are proud to work for us. That says it all.

Even though I know times will continue to be tough for us and for our colleagues everywhere, I take inspiration and heart from our expert and helpful staff, our customers, our volunteers and our community groups. Their support has made all the difference

So I can still celebrate National Libraries Day with passion and confidence. I hope you do too.