Libraries saved my life after my dad’s death – Birmingham can’t lose them

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A Birmingham author has credited libraries with ‘saving’ her life after her father’s tragic death. Tracy King dropped out of school in 1988, aged 12, and chose to self-educate as she struggled to cope with his loss. Police initially treated his death as a murder after Mike – not his real name – got into a scuffle with a group of teenage boys on Tracy’s former council estate. Detectives charged one of the boys with manslaughter but he was eventually cleared. For 35 years, Tracy and her family believed there had been a miscarriage of justice. She had pictured her dad as a blameless victim upon hearing reports that one of the boys had delivered a fatal ‘karate chop’ to the back of his head. READ MORE: ‘My dad died in a city shopping centre – I didn’t know the truth for 35 years’ Tracy, now 48, no longer believes this to be true after reading a police report on her father’s death for the first time in 2022. It suggested he had instigated the violence – revealing he was not as innocent as she’d thought. But by this point, her life had already been shaped by the tragedy. Between the ages of 12 and 16, Tracy chose to self-educate at her local library. She had dropped out of school because she couldn’t face bumping into the group of teenagers involved. She also didn’t want to walk past the same spot where her dad had collapsed on her way to class. In her new memoir, ‘Learning to Think’, Tracy credits libraries with ‘saving’ her life and providing her with the resources to forge a successful career. Given her life experience, Tracy was horrified when news broke that Birmingham City Council might close 25 of its 35 libraries as part of desperate plans to balance its books. Like campaigners, Tracy urged the authority to rethink. “It will hit the poorest families the hardest,” said Tracy whose family always lived on the breadline growing up. “I wouldn’t have had a career at all if I wasn’t able to access books for free.” The former Birmingham Post and Mail marketer’s new book explores her dad’s tragic death, growing up on a council estate and how libraries pulled her from the abyss. On how important libraries were for communities, Tracy said: “We think libraries are just a place to get books but that’s not the case at all. “They’re also safe and quiet spaces where children can access computers and do their homework. Lots of schools don’t even have a library budget now and mobile libraries are non-existent. It’s so sad. Cuts have been awful. “I used my local library to teach myself and did work experience there. Social services were quickly involved after my father’s death and they could see I was a bright kid, willing to learn, but that I just wasn’t able to do it in a school environment. “It’s now known as ‘school anxiety and refusal’ – it’s an anxiety disorder. Since the pandemic, there has been a huge rise in children not attending school because of this and that’s another reason why libraries are so important.” On Birmingham libraries potentially closing, she added: “It would be devastating to lose that many. They’re invaluable. “But if the council won’t fund them then I think our communities should take control. Immediate rallying is Birmingham in a nutshell, isn’t it? We roll our sleeves up and we do things.” A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council said last week it was going through a “challenging period” and acknowledged it was an unsettling time for many residents. “Alongside the broader delivery of library services throughout the city, the process of deciding which libraries become hubs will undergo extensive consultation across online and in-person formats,” they said. “Our community libraries are all valued assets that provide information, foster knowledge, and offer trusted spaces for residents. While we must operate within budget constraints, we are committed to preserving access to vital library resources and services to meet both current and future resident needs.” They added: “In each locality, we will explore all possibilities for future library provision. Subsequently, we will encourage Birmingham residents and stakeholders to participate in public consultations to help shape the library services of tomorrow. We highly value input and feedback from our diverse communities, ensuring that all voices are heard in this process.” Learning to Think is out now in hardback, ebook and audio.

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