The sign over the doorway reads Libraries are for Everyone!
Well, who’s ‘everyone’? I find it usually depends on who you ask, and they don’t always mean me. But the new library is a step-up from the old one, and we’ve all been given leaflets at school encouraging us to join.
Except that, it turns out that if you don’t have a parent with you, you can’t just take a book home. You need your own library card.
The librarian doesn’t get mad, or laugh or anything, though. “Well, you only have to be fourteen to apply for a card,” he says, picking up a form and holding it out for me. “All we need’s your name and address and a way to get in touch with you.”
I stare at the form like it might burst into flames at any moment. Because giving out my address and phone number is one thing, but names are something else. I take the form anyway, and fold it into a tiny square before pocketing it, and walking away.
I’ve tried out a lot of names, wearing them like different hats as I grew up, each one lifted from one of the books I borrowed when I was littler. Mildred, Lyra, Brandon, Lucy, Peter, Tiffany, none of them felt perfect but each of them felt good to try on. I could be a witch, or an adventurer, or a detective, or anything at all, escaping from my own world into hundreds of others. No one had to know where I was disappearing to, or where I might have come from, or even why I wanted to disappear.
And now, I can do just that, whenever I want.
If I can just fill out that form.
So, I go back to the library after school a few days later, going straight up to the desk.
“Excuse me,” I say to the librarian. “I’m looking for books about names.”
He doesn’t look surprised, he doesn’t ask why, and if he clocks the yellow, white, purple and black striped badge on my blazer he doesn’t react at all. He takes me over to the right place, and picks out the best-looking books for me, handing them over with a smile. “Good luck!” he says.
…the smell of old book is as delicious as chocolate.
The books all have babies on the front and I feel like a bit of a baby at first sitting going through the pages of ‘Boy’ and then ‘Girl’ and wondering how anyone is ever supposed to choose, and my face feels all hot like everyone is watching me, even though they aren’t, and I think about just putting the books back and using Google after all…
…when the librarian comes over, putting a book back on the shelf by my head.
“That one’s the best one, I think,” he says, pointing at the oldest book of them all, untouched on the seat next to me.
“Is it?” I pull a face. “It looks a bit. You know.”
“I guess it does, but the words inside still work.” He gives me another smile. “And it isn’t separated into Boy or Girl sections. That’s actually the book I picked my name out of, when I was about your age.”
And my heart leaps into my mouth so I can’t say thank you without choking on it. I pick up the book of names, the plastic cover creaking in my hands, and the smell of old book is as delicious as chocolate. The rich meanings of names pour off the pages, winding their way to their fictional namesakes, each one seeking out a Kamala, Alice, Will, Aster, Omar, Tao or Artemis, each one a character I’ve run for miles with, each one a possibility.
In the end, I don’t pick anything out of the book that day, but it’s good to know the books are there, when I need them. When I’m ready.
And the next time I go in, I see the librarian on a step-ladder, re-organising a display of books. And when he reaches, his trousers rise up so I can see his blue, pink and white striped socks. Because Libraries are for everyone!
By Christmas, I’m ready to fill out the form. It’s gone faded and fluffy from being in my blazer pocket for weeks on end, and my biro bleeds all over it, but I manage to fill it in properly, carefully writing my name at the top in block capitals.
The librarian takes it from me, and glances at the name at the top. “I knew you’d find a good one,” he says. And he writes it onto the back of my library card, my ticket to anywhere. And hands it over. “Welcome to the library, Sam.”
It’s the first thing with my name on. But it’s not going to be the last. Because I already know what I want to do with my name. I want it to be in the library even when I’m not. On the front of a book, not just inside it.
L. D. Lapinski is the author of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency series of children’s books. The first novel was published in April 2020 by Orion Children’s (UK). L. D. Lapinski lives just outside Sherwood Forest with their family, a lot of books, and a cat called Hector. L.D. first wrote a book aged seven; it was made of lined paper and Sellotape, and it was about a frog who owned an aeroplane.