It’s Libraries Week and to celebrate we asked local authors to share their love of libraries. Today it’s the turn of Mary Chamberlain, novelist and historian, author of the international best-seller, The Dressmaker of Dachau.

The musty incense of ten thousand books, the polished parquet floor, dust burning off the radiators. Light streaming through tall, Crittall windows. Shhh. No one spoke in these basilicas of the imagination. We post-war children had roaming rights in the warmth and sunlight of the Junior Library, fiction down one side, non-fiction the other, calibrated for age and ability. No one monitored what was good or bad, suitable or not. I read anything that took my fancy of worlds beyond my reach. I lived my life in books, day dreams parsed like fiction, my escape from austerity. Juniors could take out two books, adults four. I would devour books in an afternoon, exchange them the following day, impatient to be fourteen, the Rubicon that allowed you entry into the adult section and multiple choices.

The books had library bindings, hard cloth covers in faded reds and blues. I can feel them now, the battered spines, the catch of the stitching inside as they opened. Colour-coded cardboard library tickets with a flap into which was inserted the slip from the book to be borrowed. The librarian filed your ticket and stamped the book with the return date and the date-sheet had a warning that infectious diseases must be reported to the Chief Librarian and the Medical Officer of Health, the bogeymen of free learning who gave a frisson of threat to the pleasures of reading.

No smells with plastic covers and audiobooks, but libraries remain a refuge, an escape, an entrée into the imagination and into worlds yet to be visited. Always will.

Read part 1- Michelle Birkby