The public event at Harrogate Library on February 6 celebrated many aspects of the institution, and I am all in favour of saying ‘Hurrah!’ for such places at a time of cut-backs and closures.
What, though, of the elephant in the room(s) - the absence of any public facilities for serious reading?
In the old, isolated reference library, for example, all that needed to be said got said, at the same time as everything got thoroughly read - because staff and visitors lowered their voices. Then, one by one, people trained in such values retired and a handbill was put out that promised ‘less hush’.
For noise is now linked with activity and productivity - spread the ‘buzz’, it’s thought, and you justify your budget and salaries.
But during the place’s refurbishment a few years back, when the library moved to one floor of a Station Bridge office block, school age students made a bee line six days a week for a small glass fronted office; they shut the door on noise and read in a traditional way.
So I hoped that, when we returned to the old building, a few small quiet rooms would be provided. In fact, if you walk along Raglan Street and glance in passing at the rear of the library, at pavement level, you may see them: a suite of boutique offices, each one defended from noise by a nice little door. Hurrah!
Part two? Sadly no. Those basement rooms are not for visitors. And the addition of a more than elephant sized hole in the first floor lets in more than light: noises such as two sets of coffee machines chuntering away, and staff doors intermittently slamming, now float between the floors.
True, there are two areas on floor one, traces of what was once the three room reference library, that have been labelled ‘Study Rooms’. But those who toil in the basement evidently wouldn’t dream of working in such open spaces.
In the main one you hear people clattering up and down the stone stairs, others trundling trollies out of the lift, computer noise, enquiry desk noise, photocopier noise and folk talking at full volume as they stroll around.
Why shouldn’t unhindered, hour by hour, chapter by chapter reading still be achieved in at least one section of this now expanded library? When the world is noisier than ever, would a quiet room not be a cherished asset?
Mind you, in the basement, seldom have I seen two so called ‘function rooms’ in use at once. When it’s known that a certain room is not booked for this or that day, why not invite the public to read there?
Until that day or one like it, those who have ears to hear will suffer the mournful trumpeting of the elephant in the library.
One more thing: if you put an ear to the basement carpet, you may just hear the management’s late, reader respecting predecessors - generations of them - spinning in their graves.
Mr N Miller