It’s Libraries Week and to celebrate we asked local authors to share their love of libraries. First up is Michelle Birkby, author of The House at Baker Street. 

It is Sunday afternoon, and I am doing what I do every Sunday – curled up somewhere warm and cosy, reading a pile of library books. It’s my favourite pastime. Then I see a question has been emailed to me – what do libraries mean to me?

It’s difficult to describe in just a few words.

Libraries have always been my favourite place.

When I was very little, the only library we had was a mobile library that manoeuvred around narrow country lanes, and bought me Alice in Wonderland. As I got older, I found a school library, where Judy Blume’s Forever had a waiting list of three months. Then there was the day I discovered a branch library, and found Bronte, and Dickens, and Austen and Wilde. The university library taught me non-fiction could be as compelling as fiction. And then there was the glorious day I discovered the main library, and shelves and shelves of books stretching across the floor, thousands of them. I always have the same reaction whenever I discover a library, from the tiny two shelves of my primary school, to the glorious British Library.

All these books – and I can read any of them – for free!

A library, for me, is a place to discover. Shelve of books on whatever topic I’m obsessed with at the moment. Music I’d never hear on the radio, films I’d never see on TV. Masses of stories just waiting for me to open them.

And when the internet came – I learned how to use it at the library. The library is the one place in the world where all the doors are opened without needing to pay first.

I did the majority of research for my books at the library, using their inter-library loans service to get copies of obscure historical books, and delving deep into the Online Newspaper Archive from the online library research collection. I could never have written my books without the access to research from the library, and the quiet place to write.

And when the pandemic hit, I could use the e-library to download all the books I wanted, and escape into a story while the world fell silent outside.

The libraries have always been special for me. When I walk into a library I feel ‘yes, this is my place’. I have learned so much from my library and it was one of the proudest moments of my life when I saw my published book sitting on a library shelf.

My world would have been smaller, and bleaker without libraries.