Consett Library opened in July 1959 when I had just turned 3 years old. Not that long after, I remember holding my Auntie Rose’s hand as she perused the large light brown wooden shelves, looking – as always – for a good read.
She loved books and usually had four or five on the go at one time; all balanced on her bedside table with Kensitas coupons as bookmarks!
She told me she would read deep into the night as she wasn’t a good sleeper. This I believed, as when I stayed at her home, for as long as I can remember – even in later years when I was coming back from a night out at Botto’s -there was always light peeping through her bedroom door and a line of white cigarette smoke filtering underneath.
She introduced me to the Children’s Library and left me to look around by myself, just to enjoy that special feeling of being surrounded by books.
Even before I learned to read I would chose stories for her and the rest of my family to share with me at home.
I also have memories of being enamoured with the rectangular paintings that were fixed to the wall above the shelves. They depicted the four seasons and were beautifully and carefully painted, showing scenes from the local area. I found out later in life they had been donated by local artist Mary Kipling for the Library’s opening.
But as a child, strangely enough, and possibly because as I stood at the desk it was eye level, the thing that fascinated me the most on my visits was the metal stamp clattering on to the sheet at the front of the book, printing out in one swift movement of the librarian’s hand the exact date when the book needed to be returned. I could never work out how it knew?
As I grew up and worked my way through the shelves there was one book I kept coming back to. We were reading it at school, and listened to the teacher share a chapter at the end of the day. I was impatient to find out what happened to this little family that lived secretly in the walls and floors of a house and borrowed from big people to survive. Consequently with my little cardboard library ticket I borrowed ‘The Borrowers’ to read at home.
That evening as my eyes drooped with tiredness and I couldn’t read any longer, I switched off my bedside light and searched around for a bookmark to keep the page.
Taking the lead from my Auntie’s ingenious example I carefully removed the outer orange wrapper from the Bar Six I was keeping for the weekend and placed it neatly inside to keep my place. I remember removing it quickly when I returned the book to the library and it made me wonder what other strange bookmarks librarians find. But I guess that is another story!
The library has always been central to Consett life and in it’s 60 years in the town, has been, and still is a welcoming hub of activity, a meeting place, and with amazing, knowledgeable, helpful staff, a great support for the community.
Now I attend a writing group there on Monday afternoons and I’m a member of a monthly book club.
And by some strange twist of lucky fate, almost 60 years on, the stories I’ve written about my time growing up in Consett may soon be sitting somewhere on the shelves, hoping that someone will want to come along and read them.
“A book is a device to ignite the imagination.” – Alan Bennett