Our central library has been closed for renovation for TWO YEARS.
They did a great job providing services in the meantime. First of all, there are many, MANY branch libraries swirling around the city. So most people had a “local branch” they could use. We, however, live *in* the city, making the central library the local branch for us. I don’t have my UK license yet (roundabouts freak me out), so we had no access to a library building for all that time.
What we did have was the “library bus.” This bus parked in the market square two whole days a week, not to mention regularly circulated through numerous villages. It was full of books for browsing, had a small but comfy children’s area with a sofa, and would order you any book you wanted. Also, you could return books to the bus or to any branch (alternatively, you could return branch books to the bus). They especially wanted to be sure kids were taken care of, so didn’t put any children’s books out of circulation. The whole children’s collection was distributed between the bus and the branches, with the plan of restocking the new library’s children’s section from scratch. They really did everything they could to meet needs during the closure.
As wonderful as those services were, I really missed having a library building. I missed having someplace to take the kids that didn’t cost money. I missed having someplace in town I could work on my laptop in quiet. I missed browsing. The bus days happened to clash with other activities for us, so we didn’t get to use it as much as I wished. I missed being able to say “yes” to a foot high stack of books (which, if we’re in Heffer’s or Waterstone’s, we simply can’t).
Our city is a shopping hub for the surrounding villages, with lots of fashion, gadgetry and luxury. I missed having a central building that stood for something else–literacy and imagination and art, with free access for all. I missed having the entertainment of books loom large. It may seem ridiculous to say that I missed that in a city dominated by a university, but not everyone is part of the university.
At last, our library is complete! We arrived ten minutes before the doors opened. The BBC media were there. My boys were photographed and filmed and interviewed and promised certificates for being the first kids to use the new building. The children’s area is gorgeous. Best of all, the children’s area ISN’T open-plan, hallelujah! Just one exit/entrance, a wooden train you can sit on, small tables and chairs, and soft carpets decorated to look like paths and a fish pond. And, of course, BOOKS. Shelves and shelves and shelves of them.
The librarians were giddy that day. They wore their bright pink “library staff” lanyards, and eagerly pounced on the first new visitors. They wanted to help us find things. They gave us stickers. They showed off. There are so many terrific new features, like the “quick picks” area of popular books and self-checkout right by the entrance, and framed original art drawn by children’s book illustrators specially for the new building. We were there for an hour, and assisted by FOUR different members of staff. They couldn’t help themselves. They were THRILLED.
They love books. They love readers. They LOVE THEIR JOBS.
I’m so, so grateful for the wonderful people who dedicate themselves to library work. We’re very, very lucky to live someplace where there are both the will and the resources to support a grand library like this, when elsewhere libraries are closing. I admit I was frustrated by the length of the closure, the lack of transparency over the construction timeline, and the delays, delays, delays (especially when the department store in the same building was completed a year earlier). But that’s all over now.
The library is open, full of books, and full of people. People + books is one of the best relationships in the world.