Monday, 4 November 2013

I love libraries (Part Two) by Cally Phillips

Academic Libraries I have known and loved.  

I loved libraries long before I went to University. Despite coming from a family where books bred like rabbits, taking over every available space (not least because some members of my family never seemed to understand the concept that library books have to ‘go back’ (and we moved around a lot) but my first introduction to the Academic Library as distinct from the Public Library, happened when I went up to St Andrews in 1980. 

St Andrews University
Library
There is a story (it may or may not be true) that the concrete monstrosity (sorry, modern architectural masterpiece) that is the University library was meant to be four stories high but the architect forgot to add in the weight of all those books and so they had to do away with the third story.   It always made me slightly wary of going up to the top floor!  But then, retrospectively, probably the bottom floor was no more safe. Anyway, I spent quite a lot of  time in that library. I even dimly remember doing a ‘sit in’ overnight there once in protest against  Thatcher’s proposed education cuts. 
However, I have to say that for ambience I far preferred the Philosophy Department Library.  It had views of the beach after all. And you only had to carry the weighty tomes down a couple of flights of stairs to the basement room which was the Honours students ‘study’ room. Happy days.

QMUC - don't you just love modern
library architecture?
After University I ‘made do’ with the British Library and the London Library and public libraries for nearly twenty years until fate took me to live quite near the ‘new’ Queen Margaret University Library.  I joined as an ‘external reader’ paying some £40 for the privilege. And I was the first (and I think in the two years I was a member, only) such beast.  Seems that people don’t tend to use academic libraries. I can’t for the life of me think why any serious writer wouldn’t use the academic library closest to them. 

Moving from East Lothian to Aberdeenshire gave me the chance to try out some more academic libraries.  Despite being some 60 mile round trip, because I was back into ‘studying’ at this stage I joined Robert Gordon University library on a Sconul (that’s a student exchange scheme) pass – given that my masters was distance learning with Portsmouth so it was pretty impossible to use their library services!   RGU was great for the specific books I needed for research but it didn’t have the breadth I need for my personal reading and research.  So I looked at Aberdeen University Library.  Fortunately for me, they decided to build a whole new one. The old Queen Mother Library was dusty, overcrowded and not a pleasant place to browse or an easy place to find books.  In 2011 they opened the new library.  

Glass, how totally user friendly? 
Another architect got his way (and hopefully learned from the mistakes of the St Andrews one – though why build a glass library I really cannot fathom!) and there are seven stories of open shelves and in the basement the special collections where you have to ‘prove’ yourself worthy to get access.  I’ve managed to do it on a number of occasions, but their opening hours are not conducive to my current lifestyle patterns which is a shame.


The face of  state of the art interior
library design. 
I became a ‘life’ friend of the Aberdeen University  library when the new one opened which gives me access to a decent number of a wide range of books which I can keep (as long as no one else wants them, and usually the books I’m after are not the ‘popular’ ones) for a long time.  Committing to life membership wasn’t a hard choice and even given the petrol costs to take and renew books, it’s still a huge saving and gives me access to a vast range of reading and research material.  And there’s something nice about knowing you ‘belong’ to a library (well, I think there is) If only (and I live in hope) it were possible to use the libraries online facilities as a ‘friend’ not just a student, I would be in clover for ever.  One day I hope it will come. At present I find it pretty iniquitous that access to a lot of very important and interesting work is unavailable to the general public, and held within academic institutions only for academics to share. But that’s the way it is.  More about how I get round that problem in my next post. 

8 comments:

JO said...

*sighs* - I love libraries, too. Those rows and rows of books, the smell - of old paper, new paper, people - some lounging with newspapers, others frowning over serious tomes. Just love them!

Lydia Bennet said...

I'm attending a book launch at the Lit and Phil, an old subscription library which is the whole deal of an old-school library including ghost, silence room, massive old tables, leather armchairs, spindly balconies, but I also like our new Central Library, most of it, which is mostly glass. quite a few of our libraries have gone the long hard road.

Kathleen Jones said...

I love the Lit and Phil, but my favourite is the British Library. Living in a remote rural area, I'd never have written any of my books without the local libraries. The internet has made it possible to work from home, but I miss that special atmosphere!
Also aware that many others (like me) use the libraries less because of the internet and worry about this. Libraries are so important.

Dennis Hamley said...

Yes, I too worry about not using libraries enough. Here I am a mile and a half from the Bodleian, and I haven't even got a reader's ticket yet, though the application form is still staring at me, wanting only the signature of 'a person of standing', from the same place I stuck it seven years ago. I once spent huge amounts of time in the BM reading room and then the BL. Apart from anything else, these were great days out, with senses of occasion and expectation. But now I've got lazy and the internet is so easy for finding things out quickly. The trouble is that the information is often superficial and not always as dependable as the primary sources you'll find in a proper University library. So I'm ashamed of myself.

julia jones said...

Yes and yes and yes to Cally's post. I'm a London Library member and whenever I'm feeling broke and wonder whether I can really justify the sub I immediately begin to envisage life without it - and I can't. You live in the country, you ask them for a book, they post it that day. And then when in London the hours of happy wandering round, the serendipities ... No Day Centre for me, just the LL

Cally Wight said...

Julia, I'm right with you. LL is THE best place in London and the best library I've ever been a member of. Sad I was to give up my membership! Top tip for you. Somewhere in the bowels of I think the topography section, there is a fantastic set of photographic prints of Canadian 'indians' at the time of the building of the Canadian railways. It is the most incredible thing I ever found in a library. Sadly before the days when one could digitise the pictures so I only have them as memories.
Dennis - I have to confess I once got into the Bod on SOMEONE ELSE'S card!!! (Never having had one myself) Can you believe that?! Shock, horror, library card identity theft!
To one and all. libraries ARE really valuable. The internet may give quick information but NOTHING is as good as getting into things in depth (I have 5 books of ecclesiastical history sitting looking at me balefully right now telling me what people in the 19th century thought about the church in the 17th century. Now where will the internet give you that sort of information? Next month my final part of libraries... see you all then. Virtually.

Susan Price said...

Library Card Identity Theft is quite a niche criminality, I think.

Dan Holloway said...

This is a wonderful series!