Monday, 24 February 2014

Thoughts on Libraries with Hastings Battleaxe

Overall, we read that library usage is in decline in the UK.  However, for Battleaxe and Philosopher, a new era of library use has begun - we now are regular borrowers at the Hastings Public Library.
     Why has this come about? Time and convenience have much to do with it. Also, as I get older, I can't be bothered finishing books I don't enjoy. I can borrow books I would not normally try - and take them back if I don't like them. Don't talk to me about e-books either - they are fine on holiday, but I much prefer to read a printed book.
     In Birmingham, we either had to use small-scale local libraries which were often shut due to staff cuts, burst pipes or whatever, or find our way to the big city library.
    A few days ago we made our first visit to the enormous, glitzy new Library of Birmingham, with its eye-catching lacy metal skin.
The Library of Birmingham, opened September 2013
      Inside, it is genuinely astonishing - huge light spaces with blue-lit escalators and travelators meandering gently up through ten floors. There are cafes, roof terraces, discovery zones, chill-out areas, and a massive kids area safely tucked away with the music library on the lower ground floor. Our granddaughter loved it.
Inside the new Library
      Birmingham should be really proud of this fabulous building. However, although I'd happily visit it again, would I use it on a regular basis to browse quietly and choose my current reads?  I can't somehow see me travelling in from the suburbs, crossing the city and then navigating my way comfortably through that vast space.
      Before leaving the topic of massive Birmingham libraries, I must put in yet another plea (see previous blog) to save the now-empty 1970s 'Ziggurat' - the John Madin Central Library, from demolition.  I was looking at it from the roof terrace of the new building, and felt frustrated and saddened.
The old Birmingham Central Library taken from the roof terrace of the new Library
     It is really a wonderful example of Brutalist architecture, and could achieve its full potential in the City landscape if it was cleared of the horrid blocks you can see on the Centenary Square side, and of course the nasty, tacky, smelly fast food joints cluttering the inner atrium.
     I am old enough to remember the old Victorian library, demolished to make way for the Madin building - destruction which, of course,  is now regarded as disastrous vandalism.  I do firmly believe that future generations will see the demolition of the Madin library as a similar tragedy. Maybe it is yet not too late - Brutalism may be getting more acceptable.
     So, here we are in Hastings. We have the choice of a tiny library in Ore - which is little more than a hut, or the main library in town. I was in there this morning. Housed in the Victorian Brassey Institute, it is a bit cramped, slightly shabby and with that characteristic library smell I remember from childhood - musty books, dust and a slight whiff of tramp's overcoats. They have machines to check the books in and out, but today they didn't work, and I ended up having a conversation with the bloke behind the desk and a prospective borrower about different translations of Proust......
Hastings Library
     However, change is afoot. The building next door has been purchased and the library is to be extended and refurbished. I don't suppose we'll have more space in the end - the new building will also accommodate the Chiildren's Library and the Registry Office, now both in other places.
     For me, I guess, it is a matter of size and scale. Hastings is just big enough to have a good browsing selection, not so big that it is daunting, and small enough to be friendly.