Voracious and random
Like any library lover, joining the local library was a reflex action when I moved to West Hampstead seven years ago. However, despite the library being only 349 steps away from my front door (yes, I’ve counted them!) I was soon swept up in London life and failed to translate that initial connection into proper relationship. I was working late hours, buying books instead of borrowing them, and just wasn’t around during opening hours. Maybe you know that feeling?
It wasn’t always like that, however. I come from a practical, working class family who took me to our local library every week. I associated the library with pleasure, reward and excitement. My family often moved around for work during my school years and the local libraries I joined were a constant presence and comfort in my changing surrounds.
I am grateful to the many librarians who noticed my voracious but somewhat random reading habits – and guided me gently. For example I often chose books by their covers and remember, when I was 12, a librarian intercepted me clutching a copy of ‘I, Claudius’ by Robert Graves (which you can find on the shelves at West Hampstead at 823.912 20). Once it became apparent that I thought the book was an adventure story the librarian kindly redirected me to The Earthsea Quartet, by Ursula Le Guin (813.54), thereby no doubt saving me from one or two nightmares.
It was the same with music and films. I have librarians to thank for introducing me to Billie Holiday and turning me into a Kate Bush acolyte, and for helping me to take my first tentative steps into the world of film, recommending everything from foreign language arthouse classics to ‘Fred and Ginger’ musicals.
In fact looking back, little of what has happened in my career, and indeed my life since would have happened without the skills, knowledge and empathy I developed from having access to libraries and reading with the guidance of librarians.
I now find myself working next door to Hendon Library, and have watched the changes there with dismay. I find it sadly reduced from a welcoming community hub with a busy cafe, to an automated, gated space with little human contact between users and librarians – I was reminded of the sage advice ‘use it, or lose it’!
So here I am, your new Writer in Residence. I look forward to thinking and writing about the ways that books and libraries can enrich us personally as individuals and how they shape and support our communities.
These are some of the ideas that I want to write about in my year as Writer in Residence. I look forward to finding out more, reporting back and perhaps meeting you at future FoWHL events!
Nicky Lambert is FoWHL’s third Writer in Residence, and like her predecessors she is a big fan of libraries. After studying History and English, Nicky qualified as a mental health nurse, and is now an Associate Professor and Director of Teaching and Learning Mental Health and Social Work at Middlesex University in Hendon. She has been a member of West Hampstead Library since moving here 2011 and tweets about mental health and wellbeing under the name @niadla