Bexhill Library is the third most-used library in East Sussex.
Henry, one of the librarians, showed me around this afternoon.
“I used to work in a cave. I mean, literally, a cave – it was a sort of tourist attraction. I was good at it, good at selling, but I didn’t really believe in it.
This,” Henry gestured to everything around him, “it’s all free, it’s for everyone. You can push a book into someone’s hands – something you think that they might like – and they don’t have to pay a thing. If they don’t enjoy it, it doesn’t matter. You’re not saying, have a burger with that, have a coke with that. There’s nowhere else like this.
Some people come here when we open and they stay here until we close. This is their sitting room. Sometimes we have to remind them gently that it’s not just their sitting room, it’s everyone’s sitting room.
They want to do the crosswords in the paper and we have to stop them. We tell them you can photocopy it and then you can do it but you can’t do the crossword in that newspaper. It belongs to all of us.”
Henry pointed out to me the reference section that was popular in the library.
“It’s a mistake to say that everything is online nowadays,” he told me. “We get people here who are interested in coins or stamps and we can’t just push those people towards a computer. They still use these books. We need to cater for all of our customers.”
There was gentle bustle of activity at Bexhill.
A woman came in to ask about the bus timetable and recycling system. I listened to one of the librarians patiently explaining it all to her.
There were a brother and sister doing homework and also many older people using the desks. In the children’s library, a small girl delightedly presented her mother with a book.
I noticed Matthew embroidering at one of the tables downstairs.
He was lost in his activity; consumed by the careful placement and tracking of his needle and thread.
He had a photograph of a cat before him that looked alarmingly identical to my parents’ cat. He had used it to make a complicated-looking pattern.
The first black, hatched lines had begun to take shape on the material.
“I started doing this after I had a mental breakdown,” he told me. “I come to the library to do it because it’s calm here.”
I asked him how often he came here.
He answered without looking up from his stitching, the words tripping off his tongue quickly.
“As much as I possibly can.”