Graham Carter - the voice of age and experience

Silence is golden. Or at least it is in Upper Stratton. Last week I found myself at a 50th anniversary party organised for Upper Stratton Library, which was exactly half a century old on November 7.

I have my own special memories of the place because I was a member, not many years after it first opened.

One of the first books I remember borrowing, all those years ago, is The Borrowers.

That is the second most misleading book title in literary history, after The Neverending Story, because, if I remember rightly, The Borrowers never actually gave anything back.

Funnily enough, I can’t remember ever returning that copy of The Borrowers.

Of the many pleasures that come with books, content isn’t necessarily at the top of the list. All books (and also newspapers and magazines, come to think of it) get your senses working overtime in ways that reading on a screen never can. They even smell welcoming.

So my fondest and most vivid memories of Upper Stratton Library in the 1970s are not to do with reading the books, but rather the act of going to the library on my bike, making my choice, handing over my card and getting it stamped.

It would be putting it too strongly to call it an ‘adventure’, but that wouldn’t be far wrong.

Libraries are also in Swindon’s DNA.

While Salford claims to have opened the first free public library in Britain, in 1850, Swindon effectively invented them, seven years earlier, with the formation of what was to become the Mechanics’ Institute Library, which was a public library in all but name.

All this might make you surprised to discover I haven’t been a member of a library since I left school.

For a start, I am more of a non-fiction person than a fiction one, and lending libraries are mainly geared up for people who like stories, since two thirds of the books borrowed by adults are novels, while nearly all children’s books are fiction.

But an even bigger problem for me is I am one of those Borrowers in the story. Once I have something, I hate to let go of it, especially a book.

The only ones I have ever bought and then thrown away are Rolf Harris’ autobiography and a couple of books by the lying and cheating Lance Armstrong.

Having a book in my possession and having to give it back goes against every instinct in my body.

So this is a warning to everyone never to lend me a book, and means lending libraries are not for me.

But that’s not to say I am not a big advocate of them.

I have borrowing The Borrowers to thank for igniting not just a love of books and knowledge, but a desire to write, and it might never have happened without Upper Stratton Library, which I discovered was Wiltshire County Council’s first ever purpose-built one.

Strange that, in 1967, councillors were building libraries, not telling us they are a luxury we can’t afford.

So the most pleasing aspect of the party at the library was meeting the volunteers who have taken over the reins.

They are following in the footsteps of the visionaries who built the Mechanics’ Institute library and, while some people might mourn the handing over of libraries to the people, I like to think of it as The Borrowers giving back what they borrowed.

Hopefully it will be onwards and upwards for libraries. After all, some things are far better left in the hands of people who know the value of essential services, and not just their cost.