Thursday, 31 March 2011

Zadie Smith on the library of her teens

My drive around the M25 to give a course in Kent yesterday was considerably enlivened by a fascinating piece by Zadie Smith on the Today programme. In an impassioned plea for libraries she spoke of the opportunities her that her local library in Willesden Green gave her in her teenage years. I worked in Brent Library Service – Willesden Green is part of Brent –  in the period she was talking about, so her experiences had a very particular resonance for me.

Books and reading were clearly always an important part of Zadie’s life, and her family made full use of the library, though as a young teenager it was the café and cinema there that were the special draws for her and her friends. Oh, and the love prospects. I too have strong memories of Brent libraries crammed with teenagers who, like her, used the cover of  ‘that all-purpose immigrant parent-silencing sentence “I’m going to the library”.’ But as GCSEs approached, the library became crucial for different reasons. ‘We were reading for our lives.’ She is in no doubt that without her local library, she would never have reached university, nor achieved all that she has. Other children, families, young people lacking wealth and advantages must not be denied the opportunities that libraries provide, she argues.

Unfortunately this insight into the powerful impact libraries can have on young people is not available on i-player.