Saturday, 1 March 2014

When Libraries Were…


A library used to be a quiet place; so quiet you were afraid to cough or rustle papers, so peaceful you could lose yourself in there for hours, either in a world within a book or by devoting yourself to study without the fear of distraction or human disturbance. A library used to be a place without interruption, to think and rest and read and be.

The Library of Birmingham – which I have blogged about not entirely favourably before – is a different kettle of fish, one that makes me wonder whether those libraries of the past are dead and gone.

Twice recently, once at lunchtime, once in the evening, have I curled myself up into a chair in the lending library – and here I won’t harp on about the fact that the chairs are too low for the tables so sitting up properly and working/typing is a challenge – and attempted first to read a book and then edit some of my novel.

Now here’s the problem. This library (or should we really call it a tourist attraction?) is not quiet. It is not peaceful. It is not a haven where reading or working are easy things to do. It is loud. It is as busy on the inside as it is on the outside. None of the separate areas of this fantastically designed building are fully enclosed, so the noise from the café above and the shrieks and the sound of children charging around in the kids’ section below are a terrible assault on the concentration. It feels so wrong that I’m struggling to explain it. It was as though I was trying to read whilst sitting on the edge of an adventure playground. 

Now I have no doubt that somewhere in this library there must be a quiet section but I’ve not found it yet, and if I do I suspect that like everything else in there it will be less than functional as a library in the way we have always understood a library to be.

Even something so simple as collecting a reserved book now involves a ten minute wait while the staff have to head from the desk to a different floor to collect it.

And did I mention before that there is not enough seating in there? Did I? When that was one of the main selling points of relocating to such a large building without increasing stock? Not enough seating. And what there is is either bulky and awkward to position comfortably, or too low to be able to stand up from easily for those of us unenthusiastically advancing in age.

You can see I still have my issues with the library, and as time goes on and I try more and more to use it as a library, those issues are increasing. I wanted to love this place. I wanted to be proud of it and treasure it always. So I will keep going there, and I will keep trying to use it as a library, in the hope that somehow our current strife will be reconciled.

Elloise Hopkins.

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