The Library was Central to my Childhood: Sixty Summers Author, Amanda Hampson on Her Love of Libraries
May 15, 2019
About the author:
Amanda Hampson grew up in rural New Zealand. She spent her early twenties travelling, finally settling in Australia in 1979 where she now lives in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Writing professionally for more than 20 years, she is the author of two non-fiction books, numerous articles and novels The Olive Sisters, Two for the Road, The French Perfumer and The Yellow Villa.
As a child growing up in the country, our family visits to the municipal library in town were a looked forward to event. Money was tight and we didn’t have television, so books were our portal to the wider world. In the 1960s, Friday night was late night shopping and the library was also open late. Once or twice a month, we would set off for town and I still remember the sense of anticipation as we drove through the darkening countryside towards the golden world of the library.
Given it was so central to my childhood, I would love the chance to revisit that library but it has long since been demolished. It was probably a fairly typical municipal building of its time but, for me, the shelves of neatly ordered books, the dark timber panelling and hushed atmosphere seemed almost majestic. The librarians, with their fancy little date stamps and timber drawers of index cards, were the guardians of that empire.
The highlights of my childhood reading are still vivid for me: Little Women, Huckleberry Finn, What Katie Did, Great Expectations and King Solomon’s Mines, to name a few that captured my imagination. All written a hundred years earlier and loved by each generation since. I was both ambitious and industrious in my reading, making myself read difficult books. The most tedious of these was The Pilgrim’s Progress and I recall being exalted that I managed to plough through it right to the end.
With practically every book in the children’s section ticked off, I moved on to a series of thick volumes of myths and legends from around the world. These hardback books had ornate and fanciful covers and took weeks to read. The YA genre didn’t exist back then, and there were meagre pickings for teenage bookworms, but I soon discovered an entire shelf devoted to Agatha Christie novels and read twenty-six of them back-to-back.
I was devoted to reading. I read in bed, in the bath, while I did chores and instead of doing chores. I loved being lost in worlds beyond my imagining. It was reading that inspired my dream of being an author. I wanted to be able to articulate a story and delight readers in the way that these books delighted me. I couldn’t know then that I was educating myself to become an author with myths and legends being the basis of all stories, and Agatha Christie’s were textbooks in foreshadowing, concealing, plotting and delivering the unexpected denouement.
In my early twenties, I worked in town in an insurance office and would sometimes go to the library after work to borrow books and catch the late bus home. One evening, I noticed a young man hanging around me and pretty soon he asked did I come here often. I remember being deeply offended and a bit shocked by this intrusion by a non-reader into the sanctum of the library. Sensing he got it wrong, he admitted he’d been told the library was a good place to meet girls. I put him straight on that one and went home in a huff.
The public library is central to the village where I now live. Unlike the dark timbered building of my childhood, it’s bright and modern and the centre of activities with children’s story-time and author events. It’s run by volunteers, people who love books and enjoy sharing their days with other book-lovers. The timber index card cabinets no longer exist but the librarians still use date-stamps and it’s still a haven where readers have access to thousands of books at no cost. In a fast changing world, let’s hope that our libraries continue to have a role in helping children find books they love and learning to embrace the joys of reading.