A modern library
Written by Frederica
There is nothing like a book! I think that the internet is a useful tool and has much to recommend it. However, it has been proven that internet entries may be altered fairly easily. Historical facts in particular can be changed to suit the prevailing ‘political slant’ of the times. That is where old books come into their own, both as a fact checking mechanism and also a means of finding a factual consensus when internet information is not as clear or accurate as one might wish.
Therefore, as far as I am concerned, a book still trumps the internet. A book is tactile and comforting to hold. A tablet does not sit in the hands as pleasantly as a book. Referring backward and forwards between pages to double check facts is much more easily done using a book. More than one book can be easily accessed at a time. There are disadvantages to electronic reading matter. The computer might crash, the National Grid might fail, but a book may still be read by torch or candlelight.
My Mother was a bookworm. Thus from early years I was exposed to books of all kinds that filled the bookshelves of my childhood home. She had a varied collection of fiction, non fiction and reference books. My Father’s books catered for his architectural design interests and were of little interest to me except for two: ‘The ABC of Gothic Architecture’ (full of wonderful line drawings and sections) and an antique book (that fascinated me for some reason) detailing ‘Designs for Workhouses’. Perhaps my morbid interest in those ‘palaces of purgatory’ derived from my addiction to Dickens. I still have those two books today.
The favourite book of my childhood was ‘The History of the British People in Pictures’ (also still on my bookshelves). From the Stone Age to the early 20th century those pictorial images with accompanying text explanations set me on my lifelong friendship with history.
I joined the library early in my life and continued to be an avid consumer of the delights to be found upon those enticing shelves until about ten years ago. I fell out of love with libraries and became very angry, when I found that they were selling off the very books that, in my estimation should have been preserved for future generations to read and consult. I had no quarrel with them selling off novels. Save for the true classics, the average novel has a limited shelf life as times and fashions change. What makes me really angry is the fact that someone somewhere made that decision to dispose of the books that actually informed the mind and encouraged the aspiring. Almost as though it was a decision taken with the absolute intent of removing anything from the shelves that might actually help someone with their education – heaven forbid!
Today’s libraries seem like cultural deserts. If you can actually still find one open. The old ‘Central Library’ in my town has been banished to a smart new building on the outskirts (you have to cross a busy dual carriageway to walk to it – or drive by car) instead of leaving it in the centre where it used to be: easy to access for all. The last time I visited a branch library in our area to see what was occurring I found that the old system of classification of the shelves by subject had been replaced by an alphabetical system of filing with strange symbols stuck on the base of the spines denoting genre. One cannot but wonder whether this new system has been deliberately designed to obscure the fact that the quality of books available has been as dumbed down as everything else seems to have been in modern Britain.
I did not stay long nor yet feel at all inspired to borrow any of the books on offer. Perhaps because it was so darned difficult to find anything anyway. I don’t know about other areas but where I live, all the libraries have done away with the friendly librarian who has been consigned to the back office so that all the borrowing and returning of books is now done by a machine ‘auto reader’. So you can no longer find anyone to ask if you need help. If you wish to locate a particular book you have to do it online! Not very user friendly.
When I was at school, I chose to serve on the library committee. Everyone was required to serve on one of the many committees set up to give us all experience in the administration of the school processes. For me it was the library. Each term a 1/- contribution was taken from each pupil to purchase books for the school library. Any pupil could propose a book purchase through their committee member, giving details of title, author, publisher and price. If the proposal was accepted, the money was issued for the purchase and this was made by the ‘proposer’. On arrival, a bookplate was stuck in the front to record the details of the person who had proposed the purchase. The book was covered in clear polythene to protect the dust jacket and the book was signed out to the ‘proposer’ who had the privilege of ‘first read’. The library committee was very effective and efficient. I think we would have given any public library administration a run for their money!
When I could see the way the wind was blowing for our libraries, I began to see myself as a one-woman book preservation society. I proceeded to buy up as many books as I could find that I knew I would want to read or refer to and would never see again upon those library shelves: history books; craft books; reference books on subjects that interested me. Collecting books has become an addiction and has filled (and sometimes ‘double stacked’) my bookshelves.
Until recently, some of the better charity shops would carry collections of older books where I would sometimes find a gem to add to my collection. Lately, they seem to have become obsessed with sanitising their shops. So, from being ‘Aladdin’s Caves’ of hidden treasures they have become more like ordinary shops selling uninteresting and uninspiring ‘pulp fiction’ novels all of the same size and shape. Perhaps they are now receiving all the unsold or unsellable novels that the main booksellers have returned or refused to stock. They carry no interest for me.
So, this ‘grumpy old woman’ article ends with the very disgruntled conclusion that libraries are yet another area of ‘public service’ that politicians have managed to leave in a worse state than before they decided to meddle.
Photo by JuliaC2006