When I was a child, we used to visit our local library quite regularly. Unsurprisingly I was quite a bookish child ( being crap at any form of physical exercise and too impatient for arts and craft.) It is where my love for books was honed – I appreciate that a Kindle might be light and useful but my dream is still to one day have a private library.
Being part of Generation Y means that I have used the internet for all kinds of educational exercises, but I also remember still using the library to find information. My secondary school rebuild its library right in the middle of the building: perhaps deliberate so it was easy to access, though it also meant it was the easiest way to get from one side of the school to the other. Cue dozens of teenagers loudly passing through when moving from one class to the other. When this was prohibited it made the show even more spectacular: cue dozens of teenagers running loudly through before a librarian could get to them…
Uni-time meant trying to find the one book that everybody else was after too and sighing in cubicles over books to find the perfect quote for the essays that would always come too soon. ( And then got erased from your floppy disk. Nightmare.)
Thus was my experience of libraries until today when I decided to do a little research in the massive library opposite the flat. I chose my books, sat at a table and started reading. Soon I realised the man opposite me was obviously watching some program on his laptop, yes with headphones on but just loud enough for the rest of the table to hear. It must have been very entertaining because he kept laughing and then decided to have his lunch too; so now everyone could share the smell of his tuna salad.
Suddenly it struck me: had I become a library-purist? When I’m in a public library, I want silence, no smelly food, and people who keep themselves to themselves.
When I visited the library cafe I realised I had to adjust my expectations. Here the children’s section had a playroom, no one was shushed for getting excited about the Gruffalo, there was a media room and reading room with sofas with people reading newspapers and magazines, in fact there were sofas everywhere (one on which a Muslim couple was holding hands and kissing, which would have been strange but also made me wonder why they chose this place to do so.), the cafe attendant knew people’s lunch orders and a woman helped an older gentleman out with the self-scanning machine.
I discovered this was not just a library: it was a community, a refuge, as very few in a city like London. So I left the building with my £1.50 coffee feeling a little bit better about the world.