And You’re Never Alone – Sabeehah Motala
I have passed through many different library doors throughout my life. I was about 5 or 6 years old when I read my first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. That experience took me rushing through the hallways of Hogwarts, taking classes in wand-waving and whizzing around on broomsticks. Ever since then, I was hooked. I could leave my body behind as I travelled on limitless adventures.
I remember walking into the Ilford Library in London, staring up at the shelves and wondering how on earth I would ever finish reading all of these books before I grew up! I would sit on the floor, devouring their collections of Asterix & Obelix and Tintin comics. My brother and I would take out 3 each, and then swap, so we could read more in each 2 week period.
As I grew older, my love for reading and books grew with me. Every birthday that passed, I received at least one book. My love for books was obvious to my teachers at Primary School in Johannesburg: I was made a library monitor when I was in Grade 6. I had, by that stage, read probably 50% of all the books in the fiction section, including every single Goosebumps book. But it was a new feeling, being one of those ‘in charge’ of the library – I felt a sense of power being able to lend out books, but also a very real responsibility towards the welfare of my paper companions. I thoroughly enjoyed spending my break time in the library.
My local library, Emmarentia library, was a lot smaller than Ilford library, but still cosy and well-stocked. It was there that I discovered the masterpiece that is Eragon, which was written by a 15 year old. Suddenly realising that young people, too, could write whole books opened a whole new world of possibility for me! I also remember donating my old books to Emmarentia library and being excited to receive a letter of thanks. I truly felt that I had contributed to my library, a more personal connection than just my weekly visits.
At Parktown High School for Girls, what I loved best about the library was that there was always a 1000 word puzzle set out, for anyone to come in and contribute to. Those puzzles provided alternative entertainment and the finished product was the combined effort of many hands, inspiring a sense of community.
At the age of 13 I moved to Switzerland with my family. I found myself in a new strange culture, surrounded by a level of privilege I did not yet understand, but in which I distinctly felt that I did not belong. I found it tough to make friends, and so the library became my sanctuary from the lonely lunch hall. I would pore over the books, or browse the Internet, getting my first taste of the phenomenon that is social media. Here, I was also introduced to literature in other languages, learning about great classics like Madame Bovary and La Peste. For a long time, the library was the only place at that school where I felt that I truly fit in.
My local public library in Geneva was the biggest library I had ever seen, with so many computers available, so many books, media rooms, study rooms – the contrast between the libraries of South Africa and the libraries of Switzerland was clear.
I studied for my final school exams in the University of Geneva library. It was my first taste of real academia, and I was inspired seeing so many young people, so focused on their education. So when I walked into the library of my alma mater, the School of Oriental and African Studies, I was ready to learn. This library was like no other. It is enormous, and has endless stacks of reference books and literature, in languages ranging from French to Arabic to Swahili to Hindi to Japanese. It has mysterious archives of rare books and ancient maps. I was eager and proud to join the hundreds of students enjoying the light, airy building.
Libraries have always meant a lot to me. I have inside me a thirst for knowledge and a love for books that has been developing ever since I picked up that first Harry Potter. They have been places of learning, adventure and safety. When you’re surrounded by books, you always have something constructive to do with your time. And you’re never alone.