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Flying and thinking about libraries

When I was a child one of my favorite places was Pease Library, where every book was a doorway into a forest, an ancient city, a grassy plain or stormy sea peopled by men and women who were witty, wise and brave - or sometimes not. I accepted without question the idea that my town would house books and freely lend them, even to a child, and I climbed the big hill home happy to have books in my bag. Less happy when I walked them back overdue!

So I was glad to see in the autumn issue of This England, a column about the earliest recorded library which made books available to readers like me.

Founded by Francis Trigge, a Lincolnshire rector in 1598, the library occupied, and still does, a small room above the south porch of St. Wulfram's Church.

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St Wulfram's Church, Grantham. Simon Jenkins in his book England's 1000 Best Churches awards 5 stars to only 18 churches. One of them is St Wulfram's.

In the National Year of the Book, when over the half the population of Britain is said to be registered with a local library, here is the church with the library that started them all, followed by coffee-house libraries in the 18th century, libraries in inns and circulating libraries and my own library. Many of those built in the early twentieth century in America and Britain had the help of industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who left Dunfermline for Allegheny, Pennsylvania, when he was thirteen, working as a bobbin boy and borrowing library books to read at night.

The internet has changed many things. Sitting here in the airport, on my way to Thanksgiving in LA, I and many other people are on laptops, but on board the plane I'll be reading, flying into 7th century England while flying south.

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