If you aren’t from the UK then you might not know that many public libraries there are under enormous pressure, and communities are fighting to keep their libraries open. My recent visits to my local public library here in Berlin remind me how important a public library is, even for those who can afford books and have plenty of them at home! Here is my list of why the public library is imporant to me, an immigrant:
- I can practice my spoken language skills there. Library staff are patient, friendly, helpful and clear spoken, and that’s an important resource to a new speaker of the language!
- I can learn about the culture of my host nation. What the library has on its shelves tells me something about the culture of the place where I live. Books aimed at children are particularly helpful as they are not too difficult to read and they also explain more about the education that the “natives” will have had.
- I bump into neighbours there and can strike up a quick chat: this builds my sense of belonging to a community.
- There are leaflets in the library about courses and events in my local area, as well as books about the history of the borough and city, and maps and walks. The latter are a collection that shows me what is worth buying for myself!
- I can also borrow books that I would never buy, for example when friends visit with their children, I can introduce them to the language and culture of my host nation with children’s books.
- There are lots of audio books too, and these are good for me to practice my listening comprehension in the new language.
- I can borrow DVDs from the library, and watch them in German. I find the German telly pretty “meh”. It’s either too academic for my language skills, or too dumbed down for me to be interested! I do also borrow from the local DVD shop, but that gets pretty expensive.
- Most importantly for me, a library is a haven. It is somewhere welcoming, warm and quiet, where I can take a pause from the hustle of grocery shopping or whatever else I’m doing in the precinct, and be taken out of the everyday world and into an inspiring world of thought, imagination and learning, with absolutely no pressure whatsoever to buy or to spend any money. It’s not about the size of your wallet but the size of your appetite for knowledge and culture!
If that fires your enthusiasm for libraries, then I encourage you to check out your own public library. Use it before you lose it!