Libraries are like so many other things. Football teams, governments, trendy bars. If you let yourself fall into the feel of them, if you can align their purpose with your own, they will become great institutions in your life and mind. They will become part of you. You will visit them regularly, physically or in conversation. They will comfort you, like happy homes, pleasant parks, requited loves and successful bets. They can do a lot for you.
On the other hand, they can become hateful. Again like those other institutions, people, places. If you’re forced to attend them. For study when you want to drink, to drink when you want to be alone, to sit undisturbed when you want to talk. A favourite cafe can become a prison as well as a social paradise. Whilst there are many people to meet, greet and chat with, you can also become a silent corner feature, accepted as part of the convivial landscape. Accepting yourself as a mere part of the landscape. Or if you want to work, staff can find something to talk to you about. And in any case you can find yourself going there as an excuse not to go somewhere unknown, somewhere new, where you are new. Where you can forge new relationships, behave in new ways. You can be stuck, attending a place that no longer suits your purposes, because you feel somehow you ‘need’ to, because you always have done. Because it helps. Doesn’t it?
Such with libraries, if you feel like you need to attend them, rather than want to attend them. If you go again and again, unwillingly, then the musty smell of books begins to suffocate rather than warm like a coal fire. Every creak of the door disturbs. The shining sunlight seeps in or calls you away, rather than simply smiling at your industry. Libraries can be strange places.
I think a lot of people are put off by the quiet, and by the books. So many books and seemingly so few people who really read these days. Except the odd thriller, your Potter, your GoT, your Fifty Shades. People who go just that bit beyond the TV show because anyway reading is probably easier on their daily commute. Libraries have books no-one has ever heard of. Scary, right? Who knows what magisterial secrets might lie within. Who knows what qualifications one might require to have the slightest chance of understanding these aged tomes?
Me. You don’t need anything but the will to do it.
This is why libraries are an institution. You need to sink into their specific culture to be able to access and enjoy them, which is a bit of a leap for some folk. Like it would be a bit of effort for me to suddenly take up and chant for a football team, or to fall head over heels in love with any part of a current government. [history’s another matter of course. A huge world of institution on its own. Beautiful and handsome and sensuous and lovely. All the people of history are delectable. All the past is vegan, gluten-free cherry pie with extra soya.] And it saddens me that libraries are the sort of institution that they are: stuffy, with the musk of bookdust. Slow paperial decay. And particularly, that so many of their best books feel so foreign to so many people…even feel forbidden. Feel as though they could only be of interest and use to “a higher class”. Humbug. The have good parts of the culture too, a culture that isn’t dependent on students being compelled to attend them. The books, the people inside those books, are the treasures. The silence too, being able to get away from everything. But this is where we’re having reason to like the internet more and blogs in particular. This diary is a bit like a long set of blog posts, I suppose. Just people putting opinions out there, sometimes very good and very accessible ones. All nicely displayed. Pretty much all free. Capable of bringing the unusual to the usual and having them shake hands. Happening wherever you want it to. At home, in a field of green, in a restaurant or office. The internet is the library made cool, flexible, and ultra-accessible.
I think libraries should move to homes, bars, cafes, and the internet. I think they’d sit nicely in such scenes. Rather than having the poor librarians potter about in pre or post academia. Shuffling like pages of books in the wind. Not all bad though. I’m at Senate House as I type. Magnificent feeling of being here by choice, as a paid-up member of the public. It makes the point about people’s concern very well though. Senate House the building was, I think I heard, considered by the Nazis as one of their favoured headquarters if they were to conquer London, and was used in the filming of Orwell’s 1984 as the foreboding MiniTrue. That is, having actually been our Ministry of Information during the War. Yet it has that other side to those who’ve accepted it. The architecture, if grey, still echoes the late Gatsby-Era, still speaks of a world of joy to be found in reading much as a world of joy can be found in combining Jazz and cocktail parties.