Libraries may just be the nicest places in the world. From the pleasant atmosphere created by books huddling sociably together, to the (almost) unfailing friendly helpfulness of librarians worldwide, they’re oases in a frightening world. Calm little utopias of amiable silence where everything is free, and time ceases to whirr around so threateningly. Ever tried to rush in a library? I think it may be impossible.
I haven’t really been around for very long, so it’s a bit early to make sweeping generalisations about the narrative of my life. But with regards to my life so far, I’m pretty certain that you could map the course of my life just through libraries. Early library memories go back to art competitions in the old Lady Lane library in Waterford, Ireland. This became the Ardkeen library, and then the new Lady Lane library. Then there was the ugly many-cornered shape of New Ross library, where I once got to meet Eoin Colfer. And the brief, slightly odd flirtation with the mobile library-in-a-van in Mullinavat.
I grew up through these libraries, progressing from children’s section, to nine-to-thirteens (I distinctly remember getting books from this section while only eight years old. Can you imagine the pride?), through young adult to the big shelves. I think they probably shaped me to a surprising degree, and not just through the obvious method of providing me with books (although Christ knows they did plenty of that). My first forays into the internet came at New Ross Library in a different town. More significantly, those Waterford libraries’ CD collections gave me some of my first encounters with the artists who shaped my music taste, and by proxy my aesthetic: Metallica’s Black Album, still the best thing I’ve ever heard. Nickelback, the band who, for all their loathers, turned me onto modern rock. Um, the Baha Men…let’s move swiftly on.
Across the sea, and there was Forfar Academy library, where I got to huddle three times a week in the otherwise disorienting new world of school whilst everybody else was learning German. Forfar town library provided me with books through the holidays, but it was the Academy that would first loan me Joyce’s Ulysses, three-and-a-bit shockingly long years ago. And then it was up the ladder again, to the looming bulk of Edinburgh University Library. Here I’m forced to find books according to weird code-numbers starting with PR and PN, and to loan almost unreadable tracts of literary theory to wade through for the gems to add a little sparkle to my essays.
I’ll be back there next year, and with true lit-geek lameness I’m actually quite excited to see how far they’ve gotten with its current renovation when I do. But just now I’ve got a new couple of libraries in my life; the iMac-studded faculty libraries at the University of Queensland, and the public library in Indooroopilly, near my house.
It’s this library that filled me with the warm puff of affection which inspired this ramble. Because ignoring the academic library for the moment, public libraries really are the most lovable places imaginable. They take all the nicest things which you could ask for in life — books, music, the life-elixir of wi-fi — and lump them altogether, for free (I’m so attached to the place that I even go and sit in the foyer when it‘s closed late at nights, to leech off their wi-fi. Given that it shares a foyer with a cinema, I imagine I’m getting a reputation for oddness amongst the Indooroopilly ushers). It’s not just that they’re useful, they’re so lovely. Sometimes when I’m in there they have children’s storytime, and my web-browsing is soundtracked by a gaggle of Australian children disharmoniously but happily struggling through Old MacDonald and his farm. The fact that I’m scrabbling around a planet away from home, bookless, internet-dependent and poor (well, moderately poor and notoriously stingy) just accentuates this angelic virtue. I honestly don’t think there could be a nicer place on earth, short of them actually providing free cocoa and coconut macaroons.
…Actually, do you think there’s a suggestion box?