Thursday 7 September 2017

#243 The old libraries of London

Travelling to libraries had become a simple pleasure. Back in Dulwich, the most obvious option had been the local library, which I'd usually avoided. I found local libraries depressing, in a liberal sense of the word. Small, tatty outposts with pathetic selections. Had any attention been paid to the venues, it might be a different story but I found most of them to be incredibly drab.

I pitied those who travelled to the local libraries to work. Those who opted for the naff decor and lack of kitchen just to escape their own homes for a while. Replacing one soulless environment with another.

When I relocated to the Isle of Dogs, new options became available. Living on the Jubilee line made the entirety of the tube map feel more accessible. Being next to a Boris bike terminal had a similar effect. Now I could journey though the mazes of either the underground or the intricate backstreets of the city toward any one of the dozens of ancient buildings that collectively housed London's gargantuan collection of public books.

This adventurous approach to accessing literature was stumbled upon entirely by accident. On occasion, I'd have the thought of reading a certain type of book and would instantly set out to scratch that itch by getting hold of a copy as soon as possible. With it often being an evening or weekend and with titles only being available at particular locations, I'd find myself planning a route and visiting a different venue each time. The only drawback was remembering what came from where, when it came to returning them.

The bulging shelves tested my resistance to temptation and I'd find myself grabbing four or five volumes at a time, having to lug them home and renewing them several times before bringing them back. In this sense, I was a rather discourteous borrower. Deciding that just one or two books would be enough until my next visit took real discipline. What if I finished them quickly, or decided they were no good and was left with nothing? 

I found the trick was to read enough to know how much I liked each title before leaving the premises. I say "trick"; no doubt such behaviour is obvious to those exercising an ounce of common sense but it's easy to get carried away in the middle of a book browsing frenzy.

Carrying them on the tube provided its own fun. Were any of the other passengers looking at what I was reading? Might they judge me? Did the fact that I was wondering this mean I was judging myself? Presumably the "never judge a book by its cover" saying also applied to people. "Never judge a person by the cover of the books that they're carrying". Except I didn't necessarily buy the saying. Never take as gospel any advice that starts with the word "never". There are some exceptions.

Eventually I'd get the books home, where I'd typically get through one in a few days, half-read another two or three over a period of weeks and then painfully deliberate over whether I really needed or wanted to read the last one. Like a miserable vegetable on the plate of information consumption. I'd suspect it'd be good for me but could hardly face getting started on it. Pretty much at random, a time would come when I'd either decide I definitely wasn't going to read it, or I'd flick through it as fast as possible, telling myself I'd got the gist and that really, what I'd prefer was a completely different type of book. I'd hotfoot it back to the library and return the wretched thing along with any others I was still holding. Then the whole process would start all over again.


Running on empty said...

No online books?

We are regulars at our local libraries. In the city we had one that cost $2 billion to build. Here we have one that cost a few million, opened a couple of years ago. There was nothing wrong with the last one IMO, though the roof leaked apparently. It's in a "hub" with other community services.

Profound Familiarity said...

That's a good point. I suppose the libraries might have some online books. Whenever I've searched, I've only noticed hard copies, which I much prefer anyway.

Digitising the libraries would really bring home how much the world is changing. Some of them have been around for hundreds of years.

Running on empty said...

We have literally thousands of books at home. Cost a whole lot to transport interstate, and months for me to pack in my special way.

Profound Familiarity said...

Thousands? Sounds like you've got a library in your house!

Running on empty said...

If we ever ended up in a wheelchair, we are stuffed as capuldnt get it down the hallway for all the bookcases.

Running on empty said...