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Wednesday, 12 January 2011


We went to the library, F12 and I. Outside the doughty staff were waving placards and thrusting petitions for us to sign. I duly signed. This being the 3rd most popular library in the county it is due for closure. The council has spent a great deal of money on it in recent years, fitting automatic doors, modernising the Children’s Centre, installing self-service booths, streamlining the Wi-Fi area and polishing the coffee machine.
(Unexplained item in the Bagging Area. Remove. Oh, that’ll be a book, tsk.)

In all the improvements, I don’t see many new books. Plenty are for sale, an arbitrary selection of Think Yourself Thin to brand new picture books; the selection process of what to sell / what to keep is baffling.
The books which are there occupy an increasingly small footprint of the library. A healthy spread of rape and pillage – crime pays – and the paperbacks arranged in colour. That’s right: pink covers displayed with pink, orange with orange. Blue with – keep up.

Trouble is, books aren’t even books anymore. Not only are they the poor relations to DVDs, the homespun option to zingy CDs, they are reclassified as mere learning resource support materials. Or something. “Support” always seems to muscle in these days. It’s hard to think sometimes, once there, with the music blaring. The OAPs drift around to the pulsating throb of Eminem. I think it’s called making the library relevant. Or something.

I went in, trotting to save my scarf from doing an Isadora Duncan in the fierce sucking hush of the automatic doors closing in my wake and made my way to the FastBacks. I love the FastBacks. It’s all the stuff which is just out and you can only keep for a week. Which is more than you need to read a book. I did “War and Peace” in four days. An elderly gentleman and I tussled over the latest Michael McConnelly but breeding, respect and manners won through and he conceded the book to me.*

(*I wish. A girl can dream. In real life, and not in that crazy fantasy life where I end up with the thriller, I did my trilling “No, no, no!! I insist,” bit, all the while desperately hissing to self, Do Not Say, “you have it, while you can; you may be dead next week,” and it was he who tucked it under his arm and strolled off, whistling flatly through ill-fitting teeth leaving me with sub-standard fare like Rosamund Pilcher to pick over.)

Three girls, sub-teens, were squabbling over facebook, “Look, she’s called me a slag. The cow.” Fearful of being stabbed no one got involved. My friend Kitty said that she dreamed of being a librarian, of tucking small cards into the pockets on the tickets, of the satisfying thunk of the date stamp. We all had dreams about date stamps. Now it’s all processing and items and barcodes. Nothing to kick-start a gleam in a small child’s eye, apart from maybe the shiny name badge. Progress I suppose.

Pensioners silver-surfed or risked Maiming By Cappuccino at the coffee machine.

Eminem segued into Lady GaGa.

A sturdy lass with a string of children herded them all into the loo. The loo can take wheelchairs or families with half a dozen children. It’s why there’s only one. And a queue. Tena Lady Seniors formed an orderly line, edging in silent panic from sensibly clad foot to sensibly clad foot, pretending to ignore the stifled cries within as Shayne, Wayne and Dwayne peed somewhere near the lavatory. I know, I know, the SnobGod will get me.

Mr FastBack was struggling with the self serve, his wife hovering at his shoulder, the Rosamund Pilcher having found an appreciate home and pincered in her knobbly claw of a hand. He wasn’t sure what the “item” in question was meant to be, or the card he had to swipe, or what to do when that was your done.

“It’s your book,” I said, helpfully. Meaning my book. “And, here, your card, your library card.” He tucked his Tesco ClubCard back in his wallet and fumbled for his library card which he then held away from the scanner, dabbing it in the air nearby, frowning lest the red line bite. Another queue formed.

A member of staff, one of the few not out playing 1968 outside, hurried forward to help him use the self service. It’s all that’s left for them to do. The comments book bulges with praise for the staff, for their helpfulness, their kindly patience. Inevitable that they be phased out.

Some time later, significantly later than in what are rapidly becoming the Good Old Days, the transaction was complete. No one looked convinced. Beyoncé was urging the gathering Seniors to Put A Ring On It. Surreal, thy name is Library.

“Home love,” the old chap said to his wife, who was clearly still bemused. “A cuppa, a cracking read and ‘Deal or No Deal,’ what more do you want?” he smiled. The wife looked like she was tempted to offer “Whisky?” He patted her gloved paw. Technology taken on and conquered. They shuffled out towards the automatic doors, and triggered the alarm. The item had the last word. No way did it fancy being plonked on a sofa stranded with Noel Edmunds.

F12 ambled over with a teetering pile of books. “I haven’t got my card,” he said. “Will it matter?”


Posie said...

Milla..captured perfectly, I really enjoyed that as I haven't been in a 'proper' library for years, we have a lovely library van here...and yep I too used to dream of stamping those library books, the gorgeous smell of the books and the clicking of the stamp...bliss.
Loved all of the characters, and the setting off of the alarm...having eventually got thus far with 'your' book teehee

Preseli Mags said...

That wasn't the library?! Surely that was Tesco!? Like Posie I haven't been into a proper library for years. We have a lovely mobile library too which backs up our drive every three weeks and brings and whole van full of lovely hardback books. The chicklit is consigned to a carousel tucked into a corner.
When I was at college the library had a really loud alarm and when it went off for some callow youth EVERYBODY looked. His book? The Symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Disease. Oh how we all laughed.

Muddling Along Mummy said...

I've always loved libraries and insisted on joining both of my girls before they were a month old (to the visible bemusement of the librarian!) - there's something about a proper library that can unlock that books are fabulous, interesting and a path into a whole different world

I do read books on my ipad but I prefer still to have a proper paper book in my hands. Not least because I can read in the bath and not worry about electrocuting myself!

I have to say it but your library sounds like its lost its soul whilst modernising

Milla said...

Posie and PM - you get a van!! my parents love their van. no, we have to trudge along.
MAM - nice to see you. I do prefer real books really and I like to own them best of all (mine!) but am also lazy so like the kindle being light. As for the soul, let me say, the staff are trying SO hard to cling to the soul, it's the bloody council that's the wrecking ball. Why can't they just leave it along! especially having spent so much money on it.

Bluestocking Mum said...


I used to play librarians for hours in my bedroom with my books and teddies. Itw was never quite so eventful

btw - I'm a regular at our library. Was there only last night.

Expat mum said...

I always wanted a date stamp. I wonder if you can get them on E-bay now that they're obsolete?

Trish @ Mum's Gone to... said...

Gosh you're good at this - fantastic post.
Our library has gone a bit like this too, though I think they've stopped short of categorising by colour.

Friko said...

What a bit of luck they had you there to put them all right.

I was probably the shuffling geriatric with the incontinent husband and the Pilcher. Oh wait, no, I probably wasn't; I was the one dancing to lady Gaga in the aisles weeping tears of mirth about the young/middle aged (?) mum's misplaced kindness of heart - couldn't possibly have been manners ? - in letting the old man get away with her favourite book.

What's Deal or No Deal? A new shopping guide?

mountainear said...

Libraries - love the concept - really want the lovely, lovely library people to keep tending their books and publications; keepers of knowledge.

But, but, but... find the earnestness, the other age-ness of it very difficult. The making things 'relevant' seems to be trying too hard. I think the word at my finger tips is 'sad'.

Love books, love turning pages and reading, but the library experience is not for me.

Mud in the City said...

So happy that my library is still a good old fashioned kind where hush is expected and children are told to "walk! Not run!".

What's not to like? Afterall the basic precept is FREE BOOKS. Wonderful! And you get to take out the chick lit crap that you'd be too embarrassed to ever buy...

Frances said...

Milla, as always, your writing is wonderful, and creates a very good picture of where you and your son ventured.

I've told you before about my library
and I wish that you and every other of the prior commentors could visit this haven as often as you wished. It is readers' heaven.

(Even cell phones must be extinguished before entering.) You can roam the open stacks at will, riding from floor to floor via a self-operated cage elevator. You can check out valuable first editions from years past. You can have the library buy any book you wish, even before the book might get published in the States. The librarians greet you by name. They still stamp due dates on the cards that go in those paper pockets carefully glued into the back page of the book. If you wish, you may reserve a desk in a quiet place to write your own book, poem, play, etc. There's a whole floor for children's books.
It is heaven. xo

Fennie said...

Yes, that date stamp thing and the pocket with the ticket! Libraries had smells and date stamps like nowhere else; books were precious - well of course they were for the whole world was contained therein.
Such a satisfying clump and the little mechanism inverted itself and printed the return by date in a little squared area. You got some extra days at Easter or Christmas, too. Three weeks to read your pile of books and in each one a list of instructions about what to do in the event of infectious disease. Even if you were late with the return the fine was nominal - a few pence. The Librarian - who always looked like a librarian and knew a frightful amount about books and authors - would squirm and with embarrassment demand threepence for your ten days laziness.

Ah well, all gone now. But another vintage blog, Milla. How you can evoke the past - and indeed the present! Do wish we could read you in some glossy magazine. Something high and literary, top end of the market. Such fun.

Tattie Weasle said...

Now feel huge urge to rush down to library and stare at the date stamp as it goes thunk...("Yes," she preens "we STILL have one at our library", so better get my fix before it goes to the land of never never no more!)

Faith said...

Great funny blog. Nothing like the library I go to with my grandson - sagging sofa and board books in boxes in the children's section, very homely.

TheMadHouse said...

We have a tiny village library and I adore it, but do miss the bigger one in the town I grew up in. But they are turning that in to a new fangled, smalled, more self service place - NO I say, NO

Edward said...

"Tena Lady Seniors formed an orderly line, edging in silent panic from sensibly clad foot to sensibly clad foot, pretending to ignore the stifled cries within as Shayne, Wayne and Dwayne peed somewhere near the lavatory."

Worth the price of admission for this nugget alone. Wonderful blog. Why you aren't writing for a major media outlet simply baffles.

Belle_Lulu said...

Lovely Milla - great post. When asked at school for my future careers plans, I always and without hesitation replied "Librarian.....and actress" hereby sealing my fate as a woman destined to be perpetually dissatisfied!

I do take the children - less frequently than I should because they clamour for it as a treat! I may be breeding another entire generation of bookwormy, datestamping, library luddites - and I'm proud of it!


Karen said...

I agree, your posts should be seen in a glossy magazine - or even a not very glossy one - read by thousands.

The library where I work is somewhere between old-fashioned and new-fangled. We buy new books in on a regular basis and there are lots of computers upstairs, but we don't have music and everything's filed alphabetically. I miss the date stamps though - so do the customers.

CAMILLA said...

Great blog Milla, our Library's must not close.! it would be outrageous to do so. We have a fab Library here, know all the gals by first names, always friendly too. Must say I miss the rubber stamping of dates on books, that little brown ticket inserted inside too.

Went in last week and heard a child crying his eyes out, turned out he had to return a book he had borrowed and also his time was up on the computer, poor lad.


Annakarenin said...

This was so funny and picked up on many of the modern attributes that my librarian friend bemoaned before the cuts. The mobile service is on its way out and many of the so called cost cuttings randomly made so probably wont amount to much.
If you see a local library clip on T.V look out for her bum, know famous apparently,lol!