The Oldie - - CONTENTS - Roger Lewis

Li­braries Don’t even think of en­ter­ing the doors of your lo­cal li­brary if it’s a quiet half-hour you’re af­ter. Last week I was al­most knocked over by a horde of shriek­ing chil­dren dressed as clowns. Ap­par­ently it was cir­cus-theme week and a jug­gler had been in­vited. Soft balls were fly­ing ev­ery­where and the leaflet rack went tum­bling. I took cover in the quiet room where I in­ter­rupted four teenagers hav­ing an early lunch – Sub­way sand­wiches and cans of cola. Each was wired up and peer­ing into a com­puter screen where the world ap­peared to be in a state of apoc­a­lypse and ro­bots stomped round blow­ing up cars with tank-sized au­to­mat­ics.

A few morn­ings later, with the big­ger kids back at school, I walked con­fi­dently up the li­brary steps to discover it was baby and tod­dler story and sing time. As a rule, the sto­ries don’t re­ally dis­turb me since the se­nior li­brar­ian with the bun reads them in such a soft, mo­not­o­nous tone they would make any­one fall asleep. No, it’s the com­mu­nity sin­ga­long I find grat­ing. How many verses are there to ‘Nick Nack Paddy Wack’ and ‘Ten Green Bot­tles’? When it got to ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ I was just happy to get out of there.

Re­cently, the coun­cil set up an in­for­ma­tion ser­vice in a re­cess by the cof­fee ma­chine. Moth­ers with chil­dren, old chaps with walk­ers, young men with tat­too neck­laces and sweet lit­tle ladies with flasks sat pa­tiently on plas­tic chairs, chat­ting away like old friends while wait­ing to sort out their rent ar­rears and blocked drains. A sax­o­phone player is booked to give a lunchtime con­cert any­time soon and a his­to­rian from Yar­mouth is com­ing to give a talk on the ex­tinct her­ring in­dus­try. The li­brar­i­ans cheer­fully in­vite me to talks and mu­sic recitals but I al­ways de­cline. I just want the li­brary to go back to what it was. Pin-drop quiet, a haven, a sanc­tu­ary. Where all you did was read a book and where the ogress of a head li­brar­ian gave you the evil eye for merely rustling your car­rier bag. PAMELA ORMONDROYD

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