The great Neil Gaiman on the importance of libraries, fiction and daydreaming
We recently rediscovered this excellent article by Neil Gaiman, from a lecture he gave for the Reading Agency, which inspired us about the power of fiction and the potential of libraries as imaginative spaces; it’s well worth a re-read:
Prose fiction, Gaiman says, generates empathy, and allows us ‘to function as more than self-obsessed individual’. It’s ‘something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You're being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you're going to be slightly changed.’
And libraries are key: ‘libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information’. A library is also
‘a place of safety, a haven from the world. It's a place with librarians in it’, who can help navigate the contents.
Libraries are also places to dream. ‘We all – adults and children, writers and readers – have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.’