I first met Adam* when I was at sixth form college. He was a slim and very bright young man, who, like me, had just turned seventeen years old. He often looked tired and as our friendship grew,we talked about our homes and other activities.
He told me the reason why he was so tired was due to people who lived in the other bedsits being noisy, having parties or coming back into the building at three or four in the morning, drunk and slamming doors. He then explained he had left home at sixteen, unable to cope with his mother and her drink problem. Despite appealing to the council for help, all he was offered was this bedsit. After college, each evening he would go to the library doing his homework and additional reading to keep warm.
One evening, Adam invited me to his bedsit for some fish and chips. As usual I had a pre-arranged plan with my mum, in that she would pick me up at half past eight.
His bedsit was dark and smelt musty, with only one small window. It was dirty with very little in the way of cooking facilities or furniture. His living room was also his bedroom, dining room and study.
I was so naive and couldn’t believe someone the same age as me had to endure such hardship. When my mum called, Adam invited her up so they could say hello to each other.
After the visit, Adam became an extra member of our family. If mum was cooking a casserole, she would put an extra serving in a dish for Adam. If we were having a take away or big meal, he would be invited. Mum also sourced some extra furniture for him and put him in touch with a housing advisor.
Despite all he had to endure, Adam left college with three ‘A’ grades in all three of his ‘A’ Level exams. He put it down to the time he spent in the library and the extra reading he had done in order to stay comfortable and warm.
As libraries are now under threat due to cuts to Local Authority funding, I wonder how many other ‘Adams’ are using libraries now. It could be those trying to keep warm, those living in bedsits, hostels or who are homeless. It could be people with mental health problems or with learning disabilities or it could be people who are lonely. As more and more day-centres and other such facilities close, libraries become community assets we as a society cannot afford to lose. After all, libraries are not just about books but about the people inside. If libraries close, where do these people go?
In The Guardian on 20th July 2013, Angela Clarke wrote an article for the ‘Comment is Free’ section of the paper. The title was ‘A Library is not just about books it’s also a place for the vulnerable.’ and it’s a piece really worth reading.
*Adam is not his real name.