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Library still a magic place for the young imagination

By Fionola Meredith

Published 05/02/2016

It's strangely reassuring to see that children's titles are the most borrowed books from Northern Ireland's libraries.

When I was growing up, visiting the library with my dad was the usual Thursday night ritual. I remember the hushed voices, the dimly lit shelves, the rich, comforting smell of old books. Dad would disappear off into the maritime history or militaria sections, while I would be cross-legged on the floor in the children's section. I had my own books at home, of course, but going to the library was different.

You found all kinds of unexpected writing, books and writers you had never heard of before, and it made me feel grown-up to be there, as though I was part of some special club of readers. Looking at the research released by the Public Lending Right office, showing exactly which books and authors were most popular with library borrowers between July 2014 and June 2015, it's clear that the weekly trip to the library is still an important part of many children's lives, especially in Northern Ireland.

Seven of the top 10 most-borrowed titles in our local libraries are children's books. I'm especially glad to see a Horrid Henry book, by Francesca Simon and Tony Ross in there at number five: Henry's rascally ways were a delight to my own children when they were growing up, and it's good to see him still going strong.

And that evergreen staple, the Guinness Book Of World Records, is clearly as popular as ever. Leading the pack is Awful Auntie by the comedian David Walliams. Apparently, Awful Auntie is "fun, feelgood and very, very silly", which often proves to be a magical combination in children's fiction.

It's striking that the UK results show a much smaller proportion of children's authors.

The US thriller writer James Patterson takes the prize as the most-borrowed author overall for the ninth year running, and Lee Child's Personal, the 19th novel featuring ex-military hero Jack Reacher, is the most-borrowed book. The only children's book in the UK top 10 is Diary Of A Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, which squeaks in at number 10.

Fast, page-turning thrillers still exert a strong hold on the adult public imagination right across the country, but the number of children's books in Northern Ireland's top 10 is testament to how important the pleasures and challenges of reading still are to kids living here.

As libraries are squeezed ever closer to closure, this is evidence of a new generation's hunger for books, and it's vital we keep satisfying that demand.

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