What we love about Sheffield libraries - a readers’ record of love

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‘My library is almost the most important thing in my life’.

This is just one of more than 200 moving comments submitted by Sheffield bookworms as part of a project to discover how libraries are used and valued.

Book club, Eleanor Head, Susan Waple, Hannah Johnson, Jill Theobald and Richard Fidler

Book club, Eleanor Head, Susan Waple, Hannah Johnson, Jill Theobald and Richard Fidler

Postcards asking one question – ‘What does your library mean to you?’ – were distributed to libraries across the city as part of the project between researchers at The University of Sheffield, the Our Favourite Places guide to Sheffield and the city’s library users.

In response many people, both young and old, shared their personal stories and memories with the end result being a touching record of love for libraries.

One 15-year-old called Eleanor, who uses Ecclesall Library, wrote: “What would I do on a Saturday afternoon if there were no libraries?

“Where would I go and pick up the latest young adult novel or delve into an old classic?

Book club, Susan Waple, Eleanor Head and Jill Theobald

Book club, Susan Waple, Eleanor Head and Jill Theobald

“Where would I revise, and frantically panic, for an exam when the house is too noisy?

“I have been a member of my local library practically from birth and I hope that if I have children in the future, they will benefit as I have from the libraries in Sheffield.”

Others stressed how important reading was to them, while a young girl called Lucy said she ‘loved being surrounded by dreams and happy endings, hopes and records.’

Perhaps the most moving comment came from a 94-year-old user of Central Library called Evelyn.

She wrote: “My library is almost the most important thing in my life.

“I am 94 years old and have held a library card since I was seven years old.

“I visit every week and spend a couple of precious hours choosing my books.

“I have great memories of the books I chose as a child.”

The project was initiated by Dr Anna Barton and Dr Briony Birdi from the university, initiated the Library Stories project as part of their research that compares public library services in the 19th century with services today, which are threatened by funding cuts.

In Sheffield, the city council controversially relinquished control of 15 libraries to save money, and they are now run either in full or part by community volunteers.

The researchers also met with book clubs and social groups as well as interviewing former members of staff. Dr Barton, who hopes to use the results of the project in her ongoing research into 19th century literature, said: “It wasn’t that we set out to look for a good news story about public libraries but we feel that the results that we have are really powerful evidence that libraries are still a really essential part of the community.

“We were absolutely delighted with the results that we got and the wide range of responses both from different ages of people and sections of the community.”

Kathryn Hall, a Library Stories research assistant, added: “There were some moving things that people wrote about libraries on their postcards.

“One woman said that it had been her lifeline during post natal depression and another that it was everything to her.”

The very first person to respond to the library project was Jill Theobald, a copywriter from public relations firm HR Media, which uses Sheffield’s Central Library for its regular book club.

She said: “I really want to champion libraries.

“They are a really important resource for the community so I wanted to get involved with a project that showcases what they do.

“We get all our books for our book club from the library so it saves us buying them and we get them for six weeks.

“Without the library we probably wouldn’t have a book club.”

The project is not yet over.

Organisers want more people to share their stories and thoughts on the future of libraries on a new website, which has been created by Eleven Design, the founders of Favourite Places.

Historic photographs dug out from Sheffield Archives also feature on the facility.

n Visit www.librarystories.co.uk