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A Limit Did Not Exist

Kasim Ali, author of Good Intentions, on the infinite power of libraries

Recently, I have found myself obsessed with moments in my life that have brought me to where I am. These seemingly random choices that all came together to make me who I am today, that have built me. I didn't choose my university because I thought it was a good one but, due to some personal chaos, because of how long the commute would be from my parents' house. I chose a career in publishing not because it was the only thing that spoke to me but because of out of the three internships I applied for, the two publishing ones invited me for interview and the TV one did not. I chose to live in a certain area of London when moving there because it was the cheapest, not because I had researched and decided that was the best move for me.

All of these choices, made with little thought, have built an entire person. Here I am, the consequence of all those decisions, wondering, as one might often do during turbulent times, who would I have been if I hadn't made those choices, made different ones instead.

One very foundational choice that I made, in the journey of the creation of me, was going to the library. I, singular in my siblings in my joy of reading, begged my mother to take me to the library. There was one at school, of course, but I had made my way through everything they had to offer, and at eight years old, I was hungry for more. So she, wearily, because there was so many other things she had to do, took me and my siblings to the Ward End Library, so we could sign up. At the time, I remember thinking, why are they here, they don't read, but later, when I realised there was an eight-book limit on one card, that if I had four, the limit did not exist to me (or, rather, that it did, but 32 books felt like infinity at the time), I was glad they had.

My siblings came with me a handful of times, but slowly, it became just me and my mother, who would often sit by the magazines, going through them as she waited for to make my picks, or she'd run into someone she knew and end up having a conversation she'd been wanting to have for a while, or, being the sort of woman she is, she'd make friends with the librarians themselves. Any way she could spend that time, waiting for me to choose from the endless shelves, she would.

The library quickly became my source of joy, going every two weeks, bags of books handed over, returned, replaced with others. I grew up in that library, formed parts of myself there that are still here today. It was Lemony Snicket, found in those shelves, that taught me that I wasn't so terrible for thinking dark things sometimes. Malorie Blackman who showed me a different way of viewing the world. Susan Cooper and Joseph Delaney who showed me the twisted world of fantasy, who fed my childhood need to peek beyond the curtain.

It has been said, by people far more skilled and talented than me, that libraries are important. Of course they are, what an absurd world we live in where we have to make that argument. Not just for the young child who wants to read, but for the adult, for the person who needs to use a computer or print something, wants company, wants the warmth of community. Libraries, when funded well, can be cornerstones of society, holding us all up.

I don't know who I would have been if I didn't go to the university I went to, or if I had pursued a career in TV instead of publishing, or if I had lived in a different area of London. But I do know this. If it wasn't for the endless shelves of the library, for the librarians who talked with me about books, for the joy of that hour or so every other weekend, I would be a mere shadow of the person I am today.

Long live libraries, may they outlast us all.

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