Read All About It! World Book Day – Sunday 6th March 2011

Posted on March 6, 2011

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The Crucifixion from the Sherborne Missal, held in the British Library

When in town a few weeks ago, someone stopped me in the street and asked me to sign a petition against the closure of a library somewhere in south London. As evidence of my library-supporting credentials I explained how angry I had been at the idea of closing (or was it just moving?) Palmer’s Green Library when that was mooted a few years ago. As I put down my details on her form, the campaigner continued her sales patter and I nodded in agreement, wearing a concerned look; ….what a loss to the community….how terrible for students…what a blow for people who don’t have access to a computer at home. “When did you last visit your local library?” she asked. Cue lots of eye rolling and an embarrassing pause. I mumbled something about being in rather a rush and walked on. When I got home I made a point of looking out my library tickets from our ‘important drawer’; I last borrowed a book in August 1988!

While in Enfield Town I decided to walk down to the new library and re-register. My first surprise was how up to date some of the titles were – the ‘just in’ rack in the foyer had things I would actually want to read – a stark contrast to the dog-eared books I remember (or think I remember) from twenty years ago. Walking up to the information desk, I saw the assistants smiling and chatting to each other (knowing we have at least one librarian among us I hesitate to say that came as a surprise as well!). They took my details and gave me a replacement library card with a bar code (no more ‘tickets’). I was shown around the ground floor; the now obligatory internet cafe, the DVD’s and CD’s. Upstairs felt more like a library. It was 4.30pm on a school night and was not nearly as raucous as I had feared, although it was busy and there were less spaces to sit than on the ground floor. The issue desk is like a Terence Conran designed self-service supermarket till – a modernist white glass table with a built in sensor which scans your card and your books (although I missed the satisfying sound of the ‘bonk’ from the date-stamp – the new ‘beep’ doesn’t strike the same chord). I have already extended the loan on the books I took out, using the online service which was really simple to use. The ‘virtual’ library facilities are brilliant. Membership of the library gives you free access to all sorts of services which can normally only be accessed by paying a subscription. You can use the genealogy website Ancestry.co.uk on two terminals at the library – but many of the online services can be accessed from your own home, using the information on the library card to ‘log in’. This includes the entire Times Newspaper archive as well as a fascinating collection of full text articles from nineteenth century newspapers. The Naxos catalogue of both music and spoken word recordings can also be streamed, free of charge.

On something of a library crawl, I also went to the British Library for the first time since a school trip, which made me realise how much I had forgotten (or had never learnt!) The Ritblat Gallery is a permanent exhibition, free to enter and open seven days a week, housing the “Treasures” of the library – an apt description. Books and manuscripts on display include sacred texts such as a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (the first book printed with a movable type printing press), amazing illuminated manuscripts such as the Sherborne Missal and the Lindisfarne Gospels, as well as Captain Scott’s diaries, Leonardo’s notebooks and of course the Magna Carta. It is an inspiring collection and well worth revisiting. Why not use World Book Day (which is marked on 3rd March in the UK) as an excuse to go?

I have turned from a library supporter into a library visitor. Now I just have to find time to read the books I borrowed!

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