On library ladders and curlicues

Last night I watched a repeat of a programme, nestled away on the depths of BBC4, about life at Windsor Castle and it featured a scene in the Royal Library. Reader, I almost wept at how lovely it was. There is something quite ferociously glorious for me in an everyday basis in a library, but sometimes, sometimes, there are libraries that take my breath away. The symbolism of these libraries. The importance of them. The richness of them. Oh, and the library ladders on wheels. These are important too.

(Library ladders on wheels are my emotional kryptonite; I long for one)

Here are three of my current favourite libraries. I’ve visited one, long to visit the other two, and there are other libraries that I can’t bear to share but they are there, silently, quietly, the curve of their leather seats and their rows of neat spines nestle alongside these choices.

The Library from Beauty and The Beast

There’s something very private, sometimes, about sharing ones passions with somebody else. These passions are instinctive things; they define us and shape us, even at our lowest points, even when we’re wordless and lost in the night, there are the things that we love and it is those that provide the light. Gaming. Food. Films. Books. This scene isn’t just about he curve of those staircases and the delicious symmetry they provide, it’s about the shy nerves of the Beast and his realisation that Belle loves the space as much as he does. It’s about realising that there’s a space in the world for him once more.

But oh, oh, those shelves. The roaring heights of them, and those staircases, and the great space of this library, oh.

The Library at Windsor Castle

This video links to the documentary about Windsor Castle and in a way, I’d encourage you to watch the whole thing if you can. There’s something so fascinatingly glorious and outlandish about it all; the way the maids unpack the luggage through to the stick they use to measure that the chairs are the right distance away from the table.

The library itself appears fairly early on and intermittently throughout the episode. What makes my heart sing about this library is the nature of its holdings; this library contains history (which, I appreciate, a lot of them do) but when combined with this location and the finery and the dancing routines that surround it, there’s something quite potent about these finely bound volumes on the shelf. Knowledge is power. Always. But knowledge is also something else, and that is something to be treasured. Never be afraid of learning and never be afraid of what a book holds. That’s the message of this library for me; the way it holds such intensely worldly things on a shelf. Just. On. A. Shelf. Oh the discussions these books must have when the light’s off and the door’s locked…

Duke Humfrey’s Library


Recognise this one yet? I appreciate the tiny Daniel Radcliffe (so young!) may give it away, but it’s the library as featured in Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. The delicious thing is that you can visit this library as it’s part of Oxford University and occasionally allows in tours (check for times and dates, etc, etc). I was lucky enough to get on one of thse tours and oh, it’s such a vivid experience. You climb up the stairs from the quadrangle, passing the narrow and ornate windows as you go, and emerge into the library itself; chained books on the shelves, the dark wood, and the sunlight cutting in through the leaded glass windows. Go (and also, whilst you’re in Oxford, take in a children’s literature tour – there are quite a few locations and things of interest there…)



The hunger

When it hits, it hits hard. It’s a fear; a twitch that manifests itself in the crook between forefinger and thumb. A realisation that starts there, right there in the muscle memory of your hands and travels slowly to your mind, and there gains form, gains shape, gains weight. And it’s a moment that stops you in your tracks.

You have nothing to read at home.

The moment you walk in that door, flick the lights on and turn the oven on, .the moment just then when you’re sliding into your home-self, and you have a fragment of space to breathe in, a moment to lose yourself from the day, that moment demands something new to bury your head in and you have nothing to fulfill that need.

Books throng your shelves, they pack and cover every space you’ve got money to fill, but that’s not enough. There’s more out there. You know this as clear as day. You want the next installment, the next episode, and until they beam it into your hands, Star Trekked from some mythical transporter that gets built handily close to your house whilst not contravening local planning policy, you don’t have it. You don’t have it and you want it. You want it so bad.

And the books you do have just won’t do. They’ve all got their space and place in your heart, they do otherwise they wouldn’t be there, but when the hunger strikes, they’re not good enough.

When the hunger hits, you need to feed it. You need to lose yourself in something amazing, something that makes you able to want to leave this story in every place you visit ever so others can have the reaction you’ve had.

Stories are our superpowers. They’re out there, and they can change the life of each and every one of us. You read people living the life you want to live, could have lived, should have lived, and you learn how to be brave and wise and bold. You learn about experiences so alien to yours, you can’t even begin to fathom that.

But you do. All of this exposure to knowledge and experience, so freely given to anybody who wants it, changes you. Even when you don’t realise it, these books you read have an impact upon you.

And I can’t ever begin to imagine a world that doesn’t bend over backwards to let that happen.

Libraries : an easy, but not especially wise, cut

Financially times are hard. We’re all having to make cuts. And one of the perennial public bodies which surfaces at such times are libraries.

A library is an easy thing to cut. It drinks in money for very little obvious result.

I’ve spoken before about the sad truth that the cliched old librarian still exists. And that’s another easy reason to cut libraries. They’re staffed by people who look at you funny the moment you walk in. If you walk in at all. Most libraries are placed in weird, old positions and staffed at funny hours or two days a week until 1.30pm but only on months ending with a Y.

It’s too too easy to cut a service which doesn’t appear to do much on the surface.

But that’s wrong.

I am an advocate of libraries and the power they can give an individual. A good librarian has the same impact as a teacher – you remember them for life. They give you power.

I remember talking to my father who studied night after night in a library in order to gain his qualification as an accountant. I remember the children who run up to me in supermarkets and eagerly chatted with me about what they’re reading. I remember the girl, social outcast, visibly disadvantaged, who found a warm safe and none-judgemental environment. I remember the old men, charming the ladies as they discussed the morning newspapers, before going home alone.

Libraries are important. And, in the right hands, they’re brilliant. That’s why talk of cuts makes me so sad. Because I know, that the politicians, the people behind this, they’ve never seen what a good library can do.