And it made me feel silly!
I got my first library card so long ago that it actually referred to me as ‘Master Governmentname Familyname.’ Like, master, what a ridiculous thing. That, you might not realise, is an archaic term used for a young unmarried man, which means that if you’re one of those holdouts going ‘Ah, Talen is secretly trans, but the type of trans he is is a trans dude‘ there’s some contraindicating evidence. Anyway point is, when I was very young, I loved my library card.
My library card is how I got to read the Robotech series of books. It was how I got into the Fighting Fantasy series of books. It was how I got to read Tintin and Asterix and Then There Were Five. It was where I read Only You Can Save Mankind. It was where I learned about prehistory thanks to borrowing The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs, which is where I got to discover that there had to be some wiggle room between my church’s young earth creationism and the things scientists could work out looking at the dirt.
My library card got me to read The Colour Of Magic and started me on a love of Terry Pratchett. It got me reading, it got me interested in trying to read. My library card didn’t get me the Animorphs books but it got me damn near to it – when we moved away from that library, escaping the cult, it was the library at my new school that got me reading those. I think the first important book in my life that didn’t trace my initial interest to a library was probably Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition’s Player’s Handbook and that…
was a loaner.
From the age of four to fourteen, the library was my favourite place to be. It was away from school, it was away from church, it was apart from the things I hated and it connected me through a thin shimmering thread to a world beyond the immediate confines of the same thirty or so people that hurt me and made me feel dumb. I loved my library. I loved my library card.
And then we moved and I didn’t get another library card.
Part of it was proximity. Back in the first home, the library was a place I could walk to easily with my afternoons, but it wasn’t like we had the internet. Walking up to the library and browsing books and then borrowing one was something I could do with the seemingly endless time I had when I was ten, but when I was fifteen, I had access to the internet at home. Funnily enough, I can clearly remember, not wanting to leave the house for long periods unprepared because if dad went on the internet without me, I’d miss that window, no ifs ands or buts.
The internet, in a weird way, limited my library time.
And whatever, so I didn’t get a library card when I was fifteen. I’d get one when I lived closer to the library. Next place I lived up the road from the largest library in the area, the central library from my entire network of libraries, but also: I didn’t get a library card. I didn’t get one when I turned twenty, not one when I turned thirty. And look, I’ve spent a lot of time in that period very, very skint. I spent a lot of that time wanting access to entertainment media without having the means to pay for it. In all that time I never even considered getting my library card.
A sudden, intense shutdown of everything. Everyone was doing what they could with what they had. Shopping done wearing gloves and masks, and always separated out so nobody had overlapping exposure if we could help it. A perfect time to pick up a new skill or focus on a new project or read an entire book series all the way through four times back to back.
I didn’t get my library card then, either.
Look, part of that is a sheer issue of practicality: I didn’t know what forms I needed, I didn’t want to run the risk of having to put myself in a queue during a time when we needed to be super careful. I didn’t think of, say, for example, of looking up on the library’s website and seeing if they had something like, you know, an online form. Or an online application. Or an online service that would get all my information and get me a temporary number then mail a library card to my house, for free, while giving me access to numerous ebook services. No. That would have been a good thing to look for though, right?
Turns out that libraries are things whose job it is to make sure you can use the library. They are absolute triumphs of public good, just one of those things in our society that’s too good to have happened with the priorities of our current social and political landscape. Libraries are wonderful and beautiful and amazing. And this past month, I finally, finally went to the online form and filled it in and applied for a library card.
Which I now have.
I got it because of Gideon the Ninth. Or rather, I got it because I read Gideon The Ninth and asked a friend who I imagined would be into it what she thought. She didn’t like it that much, glanced off it, I understand. It didn’t ring for her the way that another, different series did – she really appreciated the Baru Cormorant books by Seth Dickinson. I realised that if I wanted to, I could check my local library for those…
… and thus this story. This reflection. This realisation.
I stopped myself from having something nice for over twenty years because I couldn’t be bothered. The second a friend suggested I do something to connect to her I found the energy and wherewithal to do it.
I have, I am told, a very normal brain.