To all the Libraries I’ve Loaned from Before part 1

Kalk Bay Public Library, you were my first Library – the one that set the template of expectations of what a Library should be and offer. Although small, to my young eyes you were a Cathedral of books, with windows set high up on all sides. You gave me my first library cards – three little folded pieces of cardboard with my name and address on them that were taken by the Librarian and kept behind the desk whenever I borrowed books. The books that stay in my mind are the Little Tim picture books by Edward Ardizzone, after all these years – they are the books that solidified my fate as a reader, they are the first books I can remember reading on my own (my parents read them with me but I picked them up again at bedtime and read them on my own), there was also that shark book, I cannot remember the cover, but I coveted it regularly and borrowed it several times to read about sharks from around the world, I was most fascinated by the Wobbegong (or carpet shark) of Australia – it is funny what facts stick with you. I still remember the particular smell that the Library had, furniture polish and the smell of books and the feeling of coolness that enveloped me whenever I walked in to the Library with my Mom and younger brother, after the heat of the day outside it was a welcome feeling. I can also hear the Library windows slamming shut as Librarian used a long pole with a hook to pull them shut – to let us know that it was nearly closing time and we had better choose our books quickly but she never chased us out. That Library is long gone, the building now hosts a community centre but I have not been past it for years.

Kalk Bay Primary School had a tiny Library – it was more a box room stuffed with books than an actual Library – but it counts! The books I remember borrowing were The Adventures of Professor Branestawm, and a science fiction short story collection – the title escapes me but I can still remember parts of some of the stories, one was set on a colony on an alien world that was slowly being eaten by a huge slime monster that was being kept at bay by a laser shield, there was only one ship available and the people had to decide who would survive and who would remain behind to face the monster when the shields failed… gripping stuff!

My second Public Library was in Muizenberg, I remember attending story times on a Thursday when the Librarian (the same one from Kalk Bay) would light a candle and we would sit in silence as she read stories, the extinguishing of the candle was the sign that we could start talking and move around again. Muizenberg Library became ‘my’ Library for years, it introduced me to Douglas Hill’s ColSec books and his fantasy duology Blade of the Poisoner and Master of Fiends. This was also the Library where I discovered Terry Pratchett, I started with Equal Rites and never looked back! I visited Muizenberg Public Library weekly, and spent hours choosing books then sitting in the magazine room reading back issues of Punch Magazine (mostly to find the Agent Orange cartoons by David Haldane).

I spent one year at the Fish Hoek Middle School and spent most of my break and lunch times hiding out in the School Library, I became a part time student librarian but hung out in one of the corners with other kids reading comic books – it was my first introduction to Raymond Briggs, I read his Father Christmas comics which were fun then Gentleman Jim and its sort of sequel When the Wind Blows – it is thanks to that book that I learned how to start worrying and hate the Bomb.

I joined Fish Hoek Public Library in my mid-teens so that I could have a greater range of materials to access for my school work – the joys of growing up in a preWorld Wide Web world! My parents paid for this membership as, at the time, Fish Hoek had its own municipality and if you did not live there you had to pay to access the service. This was the beginning of a Library relationship that lasted many years, it was here that I first started weekend work as, first a shelf packer, then after I started my Library degree they decided that I was trustworthy enough to work on the desk (oh the power!) Once I graduated it was also my first professional Library post, it later transpired that I was an affirmative action employee – the first ever male librarian hired by Fish Hoek municipality (I was the only applicant that all the unions could agree on, which at that time in South Africa was no small thing). It was at Fish Hoek Library that I first read the Duncan & Mallory graphic novels by Robert Asprin, I discovered the Dragonlance books by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis and Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

At the time I was also studying at the Cape Technikon (now the Cape Peninsula University of Technology) they had a magnificent Library, apart from the books I needed for my coursework I also borrowed Maus by Art Spiegelman which opened my eyes to the potential comic books have in education and as an art-form.

Special mentions must go to the Grassy Park Public Library that I worked at briefly to cover staff absence – it was here that I discovered (& borrowed) Deathstalker by Simon R Green and became a lifelong fan of his writing and the Hout Bay Public Library where I participated in a temporary staff exchange for a week and discovered ‘zines.

One Thought on “To all the Libraries I’ve Loaned from Before part 1

  1. Liz Rose on February 15, 2019 at 9:34 am said:

    I love this Matt. It has made me nostalgic for my childhood libraries, most of which I can still visualise, Beckenham library with it’s blue fire escape, parquet floor and spiral stair case to the children’s library, 4 cardboard library tickets. Northwood and Northwood Hills Libraries. Northwood Hills was the first place I was allowed to walk to on my own, more parquet flooring and a massive, curved, book shelf along one wall in the children’s library. I read my way from A-Z then started again, getting through about 10 books a month. Frithwood School library, no librarian but a new school with a whole room dedicated to books. Fiction on one wall, non-fiction on the other. Uxbridge library, the en books were near the front door but the history section that I needed for my A-levels was upstairs. Bishop Ramsey Lower School Library in a large porta cabin. Many lunch times spent keeping out of the cold. Iver and Richings Park libraries, tiny rooms but at least near home. Reading capacity increased to 20 in a month as I belonged to both Hillingdon and Bucks libraries. University of York libraries, it took me 3 hours to find books on my first visit after induction but I soon sped up and most of my university study time was spent there. (Good views of the rugby pitches on Wednesday afternoons!) I went to Tang Hall public library occasionally, mostly for cook books! Llandudno library, nice and modern in a big, light room above the town hall. Refuge from the Welsh cold in my year out. I could go on…

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