Stephren Fry backs Library Day events in Norfolk

Norfolk's Stephen Fry is among the celebrated authors using the power of the pen to oppose library closures as part of National Libraries Day. SIMON PARKIN reports.

Libraries have become the focus of bitter political battles in the past year because of the controversial cuts to local council budgets, which have brought the prospect of up to 500 closures throughout the country.

In the run-up to National Libraries Day, which takes place on February 4, campaign supporters, including Alan Bennett and Zadie Smith, will be keeping the debate alive, while a string of events celebrating the importance of libraries are held nationwide, including several in Norfolk.

In addition, a clutch of famous authors are supporting the day through their contributions to The Library Book, a collection of short stories about libraries, real or imagined, and why they matter.

They are donating their royalties to The Reading Agency, the independent charity working to inspire more people to read.

Some of the stories are personal, others imagined, but all hit the heart of the matter. Among the high profile writers backing the campaign is Stephen Fry who has personal memories of the importance libraries played when he was growing up in Norfolk.

'I grew up in the country, deep in the country,' he recalls. 'The nearest major library was a 12-mile bicycle ride into Norwich. I was lucky to live in a house filled with books and to have parents who loved to read, but by the time I approached teenage my appetite for reading, combined with my more or less chronic insomnia, meant that I needed more, far more books to consume daily.

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'Every other Thursday, a mobile library — in the form of a large grey pantechnicon that would today look absurdly old-fashioned — would come along and park not five minutes' walk from our house. That was my lifeline to the outside world.'

Fry read the complete works of Oscar Wilde from cover to cover, several times over, and was then given The Trials Of Oscar Wilde by H Montgomery Hyde.

'It was a book that changed my life. The heroic lord of language who had captivated me so entirely turned out to have had a secret life... I shared the same secret.

'For a gay youth growing up in the early-1970s a library was a way of showing that I was not alone... Some of the best, finest, truest, cleverest minds that had ever held a pen in their hands had been like me.'

Others who added their voices and written words to the campaign include Alan Bennett, Tom Holland, Lionel Shriver, Val Mcdermid and Ann Cleeves.

Bestselling historical novelist Kate Mosse, who has previously visited Norwich's library, added: 'The brick and glass presence of libraries at the heart of our towns and cities gives the unequivocal message that books matter, that imagination matters, that the principles of free and fair access to literature and education to all matters.

'The most democratic of spaces, libraries are places where anyone - regardless of age or sex or background, their ambitions and opportunities (or lack of them) - is welcome on an equal basis and for free. Libraries are home to the readers of today and the writers of tomorrow.'

t National Libraries Day is on February 4 and The Library Book is published by Profile, priced �9.99.


t Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library — There will be lots happening. At 11am there will be a story time session for children with local author Caroline Gilfillan followed by a craft session. From 11.30am-1.00pm get fee fitness and exercise advice with Alex De Lyon. Explore the diet and fitness books available to borrow from the library and ask an expert for advice at the same time. Then from 12pm-12.45pm there will be Poetry for Twitter (and other short poems), the chance to work with a poet to create a poem of 140 characters or less that can then be tweeted. And all day the library has 'Take A Chance On Me', a pot-luck of hundreds of books wrapped up — borrow and be surprised.

t Costessey Library/Wymondham Library — From 10am-12pm enjoy a warming drink and a biscuit and find out about new services and receive some special discount vouchers.

t Loddon Library — They will be having a children's treasure hunt/picture trail, and a quiz for older children and adults between 10am-1pm. Prize for the winners and participants! There will also be having an interactive wall where you can add their thoughts and opinions on why they love the library.

t Stalham Library — Knit & Natter from 11.30am-12.30pm. Share your knitting and crochet passion.

t Cromer Library — Drop-in session between 10am-12pm for anyone interested in researching family history, supported by Norfolk Family History Society.