A lifetime of books
Reaching one’s seventieth birthday, it is natural to look back over a lifetime of experiences. An interesting feature of which is the link to libraries, library services and books in general. Entering my eighth decade, I find myself still involved with library work, though the format has changed greatly over the years.
Growing up in a family of bibliophiles, books and international journals were part of my everyday life. My great-grandfather was deeply involved in setting up the first secondary schools in the vernacular in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), towards the end of the 19th Century. My grandfather wrote school textbooks & primers, which were printed by the Department of Education and used in teaching children of these schools. He didn’t receive any fees or royalties; he was never any good as a businessman.
Towards the end of my schooldays, I helped out in the College Library at busy times – my Housemaster was also the master in charge of the Library, and as a House Prefect, I was expected to volunteer at least once a week. A small – one cupboard – library in the Biology block was another place where I helped out.
In the 1980s, while working as an OXFAM sponsored volunteer in Central Java, I started a small library for the children of the community, with a bit of help from my mother. This expanded to cover an extended area of several hamlets of Muslim, Christian & Buddhist communities. Later, as part of the Canadian aid programme in Indonesia & Malaysia, I was involved in the placement & welfare of Canadian co-operants, working to set up specialist libraries in environmental study centres attached to local universities and research institutions.
During the last 20 years, I’ve been working in several UoL libraries – SOAS (main library & the Anthropology library), Senate House, UCL and now LSHTM. And in Sri Lanka, there is a small library attached to a community centre at the location my grandmother’s house, where I was born 70 years ago.