I’ve found a new love for libraries this year but not for the reason of taking out books…
When I was at school my local library was a fascinating place for me, I wasn’t a huge bookworm, I went through spells yes, but in the main I went there because it seemed a massive scary place. This is how I remember it, which may or may not be accurate and after too long searching the Internet for photographic evidence of its interior without success, will have to do. The bookcases were tall wooden and creaky, minimal light able to pass over them so in every aisle you felt hidden, they were long too, so to walk through them meant you were unsure who would be around the corner or coming up behind you. The place was silent, this is most likely a false memory created from too many films, but I remember being scared to talk, staff would actually shush you. They were all elderly matriarchal figures who without question knew my mother’s phone number and address and would be in instant communication at the slightest hint of bad behaviour. You could hear people turn the pages of their books from the other side of the building, unseen because of the towering bookcases, so you navigated towards your friends by sound. I used to enjoy going because it daunted me, it made me feel uneasy, as if there were secrets and knowledge there that were out of my reach but that I had to discover. I can’t remember the books I took out, I can’t remember having a library card, how much fines were (I would have been too terrified of bringing a book back late however so that’s maybe why I can’t remember) or any of the staff. I just remember the feeling.
This is the exterior of my local library the year I was born.
“Public Library. 1906 by Maurice B Adams. Red brick with Portland and Ancaster stone dressings, tile-hung gables and a tiled roof. Three-bay central section of Portland stone set back from the street, flanked by projecting twin two-bay sections. Central entrance flanked by twin Doric columns supporting an open segmental pediment with palm-flanked cartouche inscribed ELTHAM PUBLIC LIBRARY, surmounted by a mullion and transom window set within a pilaster-flanked surround with an open pedimental canopy containing a scrolled cartouche over crossed palms. Ball-capped central attic with the inscription BOROUGH OF WOOLWICH. Central frontispiece flanked by lesser doors within pedimental doorcases with twin leaded lights, and flanked by mullion and transom windows at first-floor level. Hipped roof with Portland stone chimneys in centre, lower chimneys of brick at ends. Flanking gabled sections have paired eight-light mullion and transom windows within semi-circular topped surrounds, over lower courses of glazed brown brick set between Portland stone bases to side and central pilasters. First floor is rendered, with twin canted bay windows. Tile-hung gable ends are flanked with moulded urns. Eastern elevation has two eight light mullion and transom windows and is connected to a later northern extension of c.1935. Interior retains no original fittings. Open trussed roof over issue desk; skylights over the central western areas. Librarian’s flat on first floor not inspected. The library was largely financed by the American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and was originally intended to be the centrepiece of a much larger civic complex, which was not proceeded with. Included as a strong composition in the English Renaissance style by the foremost designer of public libraries, Maurice B Adams.
The Building News, 28 April 1905
The Building News, 26 July 1907”
So then I went to college, went to work, went to Uni (yes, in that order) and I didn’t need my local library anymore, I either went into town to research at the British Library or specialized institutions and once I went back to actual reading-for-enjoyment there was something called…Amazon.
I realise I am going to upset people here and I have mentioned this on the website a few times but yes I am one of those that shopped online. I’m not going to focus on this subject here, I think that is a blog in itself for another time, but whether it was because of my generation, money, convenience, etc. let’s leave that for now. In short, from my mid twenties or so, I shopped more or less exclusively online, and as you can imagine the local library simply didn’t exist for me.
Fast forward a bit and now I’m writing regularly, I own a laptop so I can write wherever I want and I feel a bit easily distracted at home so I start searching for convenient local places to write. I spend a lot of time at the coffee shop, I spend a lot of time at the pub, I spend a lot of time at the park…and then walking up the High Street one day I see the library and think why not pop in there?
It’s still called a library but I’m not sure it is one I would recognise, but I like it. Right, I’m going to list a bunch of things and I’ll leave it to you as to whether they are positive or negative…new clean shiny lower than shoulder height bookshelves so the whole place is ‘open plan’, shelves for DVD’s, CD’s and Magazines, tables and chairs spread throughout the whole library, kids playroom, computers everywhere, light everywhere, friendly staff…so, what is your reaction to that?
I’ll say this, it’s not quiet anymore, people talk freely and openly to their friends, people talk on their mobiles without any worry, children run around and shout and scream without being shushed and the sound of tapping keyboards rings around the building.
For me, the magic of the library I knew has gone, the smell is different, there is no fear, there is no silence, there is no sense of history, it doesn’t feel like a revered place…but you know what, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s just different. And I really like the place. What is there instead? Fantastic selection of books and media, free Wi-Fi, open access computers for all, lots of new clean seats and tables to work on, convenience for parents and an overall sense of welcoming, openness and comfort.
So it’s not all bad is it! The place seems busy all the time, a well-used community service…exactly its purpose. I use it more now than I ever did when younger.
Take a look at this link:
I started a board on Pinterest recently named ‘Bookshelves and Reading Places’, within a few weeks there have been hundreds of fantastic images that people have posted, such as:
It’s been great to see people interact on Pinterest and visit the many boards devoted to books and reading, if you get a chance take a look around. You will see that as with everything, we can enjoy the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the familiar and the transformations…I find I can write well at the library and I’m glad I found it again.
P.S – I wanted to quickly mention that I’ve been a bit slow on new writing recently as I have been working to register with all the different eReader platforms that are out there and the ‘business’ side if you want to call it that has taken up most of my time. Shortly, Thinking Plainly’s stories will be available on the Nook, Kobo, Google Books, Apple, Sony, Books on Board, Scribd as well as of course the Kindle. I won’t be publishing all stories to all sites automatically, there will be a mixture of releases and it will all depend on different marketing and promotional strategies but it’s a nice feeling to know that the option is there to make the stories available to anyone who has a digital device. I’ll post more information on this later when everything is fully tied up and the Thinking Plainly website is updated to reflect this, but it may also effect pricing as I may have to make all the stories £1 (and the currency equivalents). This is because some have that as a minimum price and it means there is a disadvantage/advantage to other sites and may affect contractual agreements. I’ll have to investigate that in more detail soon. So can I explain that it was always my intention to sell my stories (just mine, not others that will publish through Thinking Plainly) for the minimum price (Kindle is 77p) as although there are many arguments and debates about pricing (it is a huge topic of discussion on all the forums) I took that decision but I hope you understand why I may have to increase that to a pound, it’s not really the money difference but the principle that I am apologizing for. Anyway, it may not be the case, let’s see. I hope when I post or blog about it again, you will send me your thoughts on the new website, the new sites and the new price.
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