While ruminating upon the topic for this post, I realised that my fondness for libraries, books, and Classics can be traced to similar roots, and that has spawned my musings for today.
One of the first things you’re told if you’re applying for a library graduate traineeship is “Do not say that you’re applying because you love reading”. This injunction is reasonable enough. After all (depending on what your traineeship is like) you could be shelving, repairing, processing, reserving, scanning, accessioning and cataloguing books, but the one thing you definitely won’t be doing is reading them. However, it always struck me as an unfair restriction, much as it did when I was told that in my Cambridge interview I couldn’t answer the question “Why do you want to study Classics?” with “Because I love the subject and think it’s fascinating”.
Because the truth is, at least at its most simplistic, that I do want to be a librarian because I love reading. Or rather, because it was a love of reading that led me to use libraries, and libraries, in turn, fed that love of reading. I have vivid, childhood memories of the magic of libraries, of deliberately looking for the stickers on book spines that denoted ‘fantasy’; of pulling countless titles off the shelves and scanning their blurbs; of passing my library card across the desk and watching in eager anticipation as the librarian scanned out to me three books that I wouldn’t otherwise have had chance to read. When, for some Year 9 assessment, we had to write a quasi-creative piece on three different photographs, I deliberately chose one of people reading in a library so that I could expound upon this magic in greater detail. It saddens me greatly that the closures of so many public libraries, and the installation of self-service machines, are slowly destroying that sense of beauty and wonder.
For my link to Classics I must go even further back, to the point at which I first borrowed ‘The Orchard Book of Greek Myths’ (and its cassette-tape – I’m showing my age now!) from the local library. This was, as far as I can remember, one of my first introductions to Classical mythology. The front cover, of Icarus flying on beautiful rainbow wings, has always stuck with me, but, slightly hypocritically, it is the cassette that has had the greatest influence. My sister and I listened to it again and again and again, and if pressed I could still recite whole sections of it now! Hera’s cry of “You always wanted the last word, and now you shall have nothing else!” 1 as she curses the nymph Echo to only be able to repeat what is said to her, is firmly chiselled in my brain.
Whether through book or tape, the library gave me an introduction to Greek mythology that has stuck with me for over a decade. Who knows whether, without that, I would have studied Classics at all? I’m inclined strongly to expect I would have, but the question is still worth posing. That book ignited a spark in me that has never been stamped out (in spite of the mass of people demanding to know ‘what I would do’ with a Classics degree, or why I was ‘bothering to study a dead language’), and that is why I want to be a librarian. I want to help other people find what ignites that spark in them, or help them fan it into flame if they already know. I am aware that reading, and, indeed, Classics, is not everyone’s sort of thing, but my life has been vastly richer because of them both, and I want as many people as possible to be able to share that joy and wonder.
That’s probably a slightly long answer for an interview, but oh well!