Comment & Analysis
Mar 11, 2024

Why Libraries are the Best Places

Dr Becky Long advocates for the importance of reading, regardless of when or where, for the personal growth it fosters.

Dr Becky LongColumnist
Emer Moreau for The University Times

Depending on when you get your hands on this paper, you may or may not have taken part in Ireland Reads, a national celebration of reading and of all the places where reading happens – from local libraries to schools to public transports to green spaces to … bathrooms (hey, sometimes privacy is in short supply), you get the picture. Officially, Ireland Reads on February 24th this year, but of course, everyone behind the initiative wants the country reading every day of the year, and I’m no different. 

Why do books matter in this day and age? When the news is full of horrors we can’t seem to fix and our phones are pulling at our brains and our souls, and everyone is just so ridiculously busy. Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Books are more important now than they ever were. And so are libraries. 

But before we get into that, I want to tell you a story about two books. One that I read when I was twelve years old, and one that I wish I could have read when I was twelve years old. Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt was published in 1981. It’s the story of four children, Dicey, James, Sammy, and Maybeth Tillerman, and their quest to find themselves a home. It’s not an easy book to read, no matter what age you are when you pick it up, and like all the best stories, it sticks with you. At least, it’s stuck with me, all these years later. Mostly because of Dicey, a thirteen year old girl who becomes the difference between survival and oblivion for her family, during a long summer spent walking along the highways of America’s East Coast. I’m not going to tell you the story, because I hope you’ll read it for yourself, but I will tell you this. Homecoming taught me a timeless lesson, that I have never forgotten. In fact, these days, I’m reminded of it more and more. Adults can get it wrong. Adults don’t always know how to do the right thing, or even what the right thing is. A book I read when I was twelve years old managed to teach me to be both wary and kind. To rely on other people – but not too much because they’re always capable of letting you down, even if they don’t mean to … and to try and understand them when they do. 


One Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young is the book I wish I could have read when I was twelve, but it had just as much to teach me when I was twenty-eight, which is when it was published. (I am no longer twenty-eight, but I still feel like I’m twelve on the inside, and all of a sudden, we’re back to Maths again, go figure). It’s one of those books where nothing much happens – except life. Everyday life and the ways it can change all of a sudden or little by little. Christine, the central character, is in her last year of elementary school, and nothing, not even her nickname, fits anymore. What can I say about the plot, except that I felt like Tink was a real person, one who could just as easily walk in the front door as step off the page. For someone who practically read books for a living, this story was something special, even for me. Because it felt true. This book taught me – or maybe, it reminded me, when I needed to be reminded more than I realised – that no one else is like you, no one else in the world, but that you are never alone. Because someone has always been there before you, and someone will always be coming after you. 

Now, back to libraries. As a Trinity student, you have access to the biggest library in the country. (How cool is that! It is cool, don’t judge me). But don’t forget about your local library, because odds are, it’s at the heart of a lot of important things in your community. When I was younger, I thought my library was a magical place. Where else could I go and find twelve books – twelve books! – to take home, for free? All the pocket money in the world wouldn’t have fed that kind of reading habit. And there were always new books, no matter how many I checked out. There was always someone there who had a recommendation for me, always someone on the desk who had a smile for me, even though they often couldn’t see me behind the pile of books I’d chosen. And as I got older, I realised that I was right. If magic does exist in this world, you’ll find it in libraries. 

Because books can teach you things that you can’t learn anywhere else. And I obviously don’t mean Maths and Biology. Books can teach you how to be a good human being. They can teach you to care about other human beings. Books are manuals for life. And as much as reading is a right, a fundamental human right, if you ask me, it’s also a privilege. Never take it for granted. One of my favourite lecturers, who I’m now lucky enough to call my friend, once told me that the best books ask something of their reader. You can return to the best books over and over again, even as you change, even as the world around you changes, and they will still ask something of you – but what you’ll get back in return can’t possibly be quantified. 

But this is the bottom line. This is the hook. It doesn’t matter what you read – and this is coming from an English Studies graduate. It doesn’t matter where you read (so long as you’re not operating heavy machinery at the time). And it certainly doesn’t matter how good you are (or think you are) at reading. All that matters is that you read. Getting lost in a book is one of the best things you can do for yourself. You never know who you might meet, or where you might end up! What you might learn, about yourself, and the world. How your entire perspective on something might change. C.S. Lewis said it best. We read to know we’re not alone. (Well, actually, it was a line in a film about C.S. Lewis but let me have this one, please. Shadowlands, you should watch it, but not without a box of tissues). And he was the genius who thought to put a wardrobe, a lion, and a witch in the same title. 

So, if you missed Ireland Reads, don’t panic. Find a book to read. Join a library. Start a book club. Just read. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself. And if you don’t have a favourite book already, you have a lot of adventures ahead of you. 

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