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|
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|
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|
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.