Saturday, 12 January 2013

Celebrating words - written, spoken, sung, or simply implied...

In November last year the central library where I work celebrated its 21st birthday.
This is, of course, the "new" library on York Road. The "old" library on Clarence Road had been around for considerably longer but we out grew it and so a replacement was conceived and finally born in 1991.

Of course the new building was a bit of a Marmite experience. People either loved it or hated it. The old library was well, old, and quiet, it had that musty book smell and the hushed restrained atmosphere. People whispered while they were in felt like a library. 
The new building was new, bright and airy.  It was ugly and brash and modern, and it has to be said, noisy!  People who had never set foot in the old place came in and talked, noise carried. On top of all this the books had some new-fangled "categorised" shelving system. How were people meant to find what they wanted!? Where was the peace and calm, the quiet solitude that our borrowers expected from their library? In some circles the old building was mourned and the new usurper shunned. 

The Old Library
The old building was also situated at the edge of town, on a traffic island. You took your life in your hands some days crossing the road to get there. The new library was built smack bang in the town centre...nestled among the banks, building societies and wine bars. Right next to the bus-stop and the entrance to the shopping centre. A prime location! When it first opened we had to daft in extra staff to man the counters. We had queues of people waiting to join, waiting to bring books back and take books out, waiting to reserve the latest Catherine Cookson! It was fabulous and exhausting! One member of staff actually brought in a pedometer to measure how far she had to walk in a single day! 

The newly refurbished Central Library
Twenty one years later and it's quieter. We would give our eye-teeth to have those queues back. Well, I would. Not so sure the staff on the front line would appreciate it quite so much. Queueing is seen as a bad thing still. Possibly even more so now than back then. Today if there are more than ten people on a waiting list for a book it is regarded as unacceptable; people start asking why more copies haven't been bought. Back in the day we might have over a hundred waiting for Ms Cookson and there might be 20 copies in stock. Times change. And so do libraries. 

In 1991 we opened our lovely new library with one author event: Ken Follett came and cut the ceremonial ribbon, all the council dignitaries turned out for it. Not so many of the public. Having actual authors in a library rather than just books was a bit new to us back then.
Mari Hannah and Russ Litten 
Twenty one years later, after a much needed and long sought after refurbishment, we celebrated with 21 events over a six week period: authors, song-writers, poets, illustrators. They came, they talked, sang, recited and drew...and they were fabulous. They also said lovely things about libraries - and in particular ours. And they said they'd love to come back and see us again, which is good because we are doing it all again this year...without the 21 theme, obviously. 

Thanks to the following who helped us celebrate! 
Peter Brunton    Dan Smith    Pauline Rowson   Alexander Gordon Smith  
 Paul Torday   Andy Briggs   Valerie Laws    Steve Cole   Phil Dunn  


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