Ian McMillan: This library is where I learned to love words: now I weep with anger as the axe hangs over it

I CAN still remember my first visit to Darfield Library, when it was in the old premises at the bottom of Snape Hill; my mother took me one evening after school and Mrs Dove gave me a couple of tickets and I sat down beside one of the shelves of books and I felt like I was coming home.

In 1964, at a time of great municipal beneficence, we got a new library and I remember walking up from Low Valley school in a crocodile and being met by a smiling Mrs Dove in front of row after row of books that I jumped into like I was jumping into a pool; and maybe I was jumping into a pool, a pool of knowledge, a pool of expertise, a pool of learning that could take me far from Darfield to the very ends of the world.

I always liked to be the last out of the library, waiting until Mrs. Dove said 'Seven o'clock please!' and she waved me off and closed the door behind me, leaving the books to their dreams.

Since then, my love of libraries has grown. I joined my own children in there as soon as I could; I took naval history books to my housebound dad and when I joined my Grandson Thomas in the library as a toddler he was so excited that he wet himself and I thought: "Yes, that's the reaction we should always get when people join the library!" Metaphorically, of course. You don't want too many wet library floors.

And now, in a stunning act of cultural vandalism, libraries all across Yorkshire may be shutting their doors for ever. I don't blame the councils for this: I blame this appalling government of millionaires who have reduced council budgets in order to cut a deficit that could be cut by raising taxes for those on higher incomes and by going after the tax avoiders and evaders.

When a library goes, the cultural and social heart of a community goes with it, and the damage will take years to repair. I'm a chap who loves people rather than buildings; I'm more moved by the folks walking in the cathedral than by the stained glass windows and I'd rather talk to my fellow passengers than admire the architecture of the station.

But I love Darfield Library; I love that unlovely and apparently unloveable little box that was built in the glory days of the West Riding and which has got a big room for the adult books and a smaller room for the children's books and a couple of tables with newspapers on and a little bank of computers and some display cases and some helpful librarians and some posters on the wall. I walked past it the other evening when it was shut for the night and I had to breathe hard and tense my jaw to stop myself weeping. That's not just sentimentality, not just a longing for a lost childhood of endless summers borrowing books and taking them home and taking my kids and Thomas down there and helping them choose the ones they want and maybe sitting on those uncomfortable little red stool to read to them.

The tears were tears of anger, tears at the idea that collectivism can simply end because a service is cut. And once the doors are closed, it would be mighty hard to open them again.

People argue that these days you can buy books cheaply online, that most people have computers at home, that somehow the borrowing of books isn't sexy, isn't a 21st century thing to do.

I disagree.

I think that the main thing about a library is that it is wonderfully classless, that it accepts people no matter how rich or poor they are, that it is a collective place where people can gather to talk about books or local history or read to their children and it doesn't cost them anything. There's no entry fee, no rate at the gate. If you want a book you can get it and if they haven't got it they'll order it. How else was I ever going to read all the Biggles books ever written?

A library can be a combination of arts centre, knowledge bank, meeting place and window on the world, and in these difficult times we should be seeking to preserve them, not shut them down.

In fact, here's an idea: rather than closing libraries, let's open new ones. Let's do up the ones we've got and fill them to the brim with brand new books and computers.

As Yorkshire takes a battering from the economic storm, let's build intellectual shelters in the shape of libraries. As the Education Maintenance Allowance is cut and Creative Partnerships go and the Book Trust is battered and the poor are put off going to university because of the debts that will saddle them for years, then let's build new libraries to give people hope. Let's build libraries that will say: here is the world's knowledge, come and share it; here is a welcoming place to study and learn; here is a place you can settle down in and feel at home.

How do we pay for that? It's simple: we pay tax. If we want a better world, then we have to pay for it. Paying tax is a beautiful thing: it's what separates us from monkeys. And fair tax will mean lovely new libraries.

But if the worst happens and Darfield Library does shut, and I really hope that it doesn't, then I want to be the last one out, just like in the old days with Mrs Dove. I want to be the last one to walk out as the door closes for the final time and we leave the empty shelves to their terrible dreams. I'd rather get a new one built, though.

Read Ian McMillan in the Yorkshire Post every Tuesday.