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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

26. Library Love

No. I don’t mean ‘their eyes met across a crowded book case’ or ‘passion behind the index cards’ (do they even still have index cards?) or 50 shades of ‘keep the noise down please’. I mean I love my actual library. My ideal man would be my neighbourhood library - square, not particularly attractive, created in the 60s/70s, but full of endless wisdom, strong, reliable and reasonably calm. Perhaps not prone to flooding like my local library and not made of concrete and not closed on a Thursday (you should never stretch an analogy too far) but warm, welcoming and always pleased to see me. This may explain – partly – why I am single.
I love my library. I’m pretty sure it loves me back. Certainly the librarians would come looking for me if I failed to attend more than two days and there was no report of an outbreak of bubonic plague. It might even have to be pneumonic plague to keep me away.
As a child I once got stuck in a loop with a Professor Brain Storm book and didn’t understand why the patient librarian tried desperately week after week to get me to take out something else. But now I get it.
Often I’m there to use the computers or read the newspapers or get out a DVD (though I’ve pretty much exhausted the supply of ‘sexy young action-scientist types save the world’ and if I see one more Jane Austen adaptation I’ll have a fit). I use the loo (though not in Ashington where you need to be one of the favoured to get offered the secret loo keys!) bump into friends, research/fact find, check out which bits of my town the local planners are intending to put under tarmac next.
It’s sometimes fun to go into the children’s section to see the toddlers just getting to grips with the joy of books or ‘those’ mums screeching across the expanse “Sophie darling have you finished that Dostoyevsky?” to some three-year-old punch drink on needy parental exhibitionism. There is the guy with Tourette’s (the spelling of which was found for me by the librarian as it did not appear on word Search) who invariably sits next to me at the PC terminal or the old bloke who plonks down heavily heaving and sighing and looking round hoping to catch someone’s eye so he can give his fulsome opinion on the idiocy of technology (we all get very focused on our screens at that point as if someone just e-mailed to say Nick Clegg grew a backbone.)
And, lord love ’em, the genealogy army. They tend to storm the computer floor armed with dreadnought voices and prima donna attitudes that would shame Lawrence Olivier.  In the guise of asking for help from the librarian on duty, they announce that they need to access – whatever – to confirm that great aunty Maud was the bastard offspring of the duke of Barking’s great niece’s illegitimate great, great grandson’s neighbour. And isn’t it fascinating that great grandpa Fred was a farm hand (in Northumberland!) and used to be allowed to clear up the steaming dung heaps in Cow’s Gate upon Nowhere in 1803? Tempting as it is to roll out the family tree that my dad’s cousin did, reaching back to the Norman invasion – I don’t -I’m too modest.
The library at Berwick-upon-Tweed is a fantastic example of what libraries really are all about. Set in the most uninspiring surroundings on the upper floor of some concrete monstrosity – once inside you are in a wonderland of words and imagination, energy and intellectual light. The atmosphere sparks with creative vigour and opportunity. I once did a book launch there and have to say that it stood out head and shoulders as a positive experience – over other much more glamorous locations.
For my real idea of heaven – give me a library van. A few years ago I applied to be a library van driver. I did not get the job. They claimed it was because I lacked mechanical skills (yeah right) but I suspect they realised that, put behind the wheel of a library bus, they may not see me again for several months and I would be found somewhere in North Northumberland holed up in a lay-by with a very large flask of tea, a ‘keep-out’ sign on the door and a big smile on my face.
Libraries are the best most highly rateable ROI places provided by tax payers’ money (and yes I include hospitals – you don’t get MRSA in a library). They are one of the few institutions that are invaluable to ordinary people and provide a counterweight to – well just about everything else that consumes human energy and time in this mad, mad world.
Go to yours.
If your local council threaten to close it, stamp your feet. If you haven’t got one, stamp your feet harder. If you live in Newcastle upon Tyne or anywhere else that is threatening to close lots of libraries at a time when the have-nots are being screwed over by the haves and need more than ever, exactly the kind of access to resources and support that libraries have always given – start the revolution.

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