Libraries are the engine rooms of our literary culture so let's make sure we use them, says Ian McMillan

Ian and cartoonist Tony Husband, signing copies of their book Daft Yorkshire Inventions at Rickaro Books in 2014.
Ian and cartoonist Tony Husband, signing copies of their book Daft Yorkshire Inventions at Rickaro Books in 2014.
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There are many things that are the engine rooms of our shared literary culture, that help us to read and write and become better at reading and writing.

Libraries are an obvious example, and creative writing groups are another. These are places where people can gather to talk about language and how language works, and they are places where the putting down of words on the page is seen as a worthwhile, not to say sublime, activity.

To this short list I’d add bookshops; there are the big bookshops, of course, that are part of a chain, but there are also the local independent bookshops that can be a vital part of the community. A recent report has shown that, after years of decline, the local bookshop is back on the rise again.

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So this week I want to celebrate these beacons of civilisation by saying goodbye to one bookshop and hello to another. The one I’m waving off with a tear in my eye is the mighty Rickaro Books in Horbury; the shop is a glittering jewel in the main street of that little town and I’ve spent many happy hours there doing book signings and performances.

Rickaro is closing shortly and Richard, the owner, will be concentrating on his fine press mail order business. When you stepped into Rickaro you felt like you were stepping into a place where you mattered; not just because you were a potential customer but because you were someone who might want to talk about books and how they made you feel and somehow there was always that special bookshop time to wander up and down the shelves and make a discovery, a writer that you’d never come across before and who might, just might, become one of your favourites.

Someone may yet take on Rickaro Books and keep it going, of course, so it may just be sithee rather than goodbye.

The new bookshop is in Barnsley, my home town, and it’s called the Book Vault; I’d seen hints of its arrival on Twitter and then suddenly there it was, on Market Street, a bold shopfront and a wide window and shelves and shelves of books.

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I went in and it felt, like it always does when you enter a bookshop for the first time, like coming into a home you never knew you had. I bought a book and I ordered a book; I like ordering books from bookshops because it’s like Amazon with conversation. They showed me round and talked about their ambitious plans; a man came in and bought a book and a woman came in and bought a book and it felt like I was in a bookshop, not a library.

I spoke to someone who said: “Oh yes, it’s great that we’ve got a new bookshop in town. I went in but I didn’t buy anything; you can get them cheaper online.”

That’s not the point: there are so many great independent bookshops in Yorkshire. Let’s make sure we use them! Just open the door and walk right in…