Today took me to a temporary library.
Oxford Central Library is having a facelift, due to the shopping complex it is part of being refurbished, and so a little of their stock has been moved to a single room about a five minute walk away from the original site.
Sally Nicholls, the brilliant author of many brilliant books, her most recent being ‘An Island of Our Own,’ invited me to see the space.
First, we went to look at where the library used to be.
You could still just about make out the lettering of the library sign on its outside.
And then we followed the signs to the temporary space.
I got in the way of bemused Oxfordians who could not understand what I was taking pictures of.
Everything has had to be distilled to fit into this new, temporary space. One of the librarians told me that they take a lot of reservations for books that they access them from their stores. Every day boxes and boxes of book are brought to this site that have been reserved by users.
Another librarian told us that a lot of books were still kept on the original site, wrapped up in cling film to protect them. It was hard to shift that image from my mind; cling-filmed books, cocooned and waiting.
It’s business as usual here, just the condensed version.
“When I first came here, I wanted to sit with Peter my nine-month-old baby and read to him,” Sally told me. “But it was so tiny, there was just no space for us.
I didn’t realise at first that this was just temporary.
I felt rather bereft when I thought that the old library might not reopen and this was it.
The old library is such a big, spacious building. It was very much my happy place.”
I told Sally about how often in the last thirteen days I had felt physical relief on entering a library. For me, the sensation of arriving at a sanctuary has increased over this month, as I have visited more libraries, not lessened.
We talked about the pressures upon councils to keep libraries open. How another valuable service would be cut somewhere in their place.
We didn’t have the answers but I told Sally how I had seen some libraries streamlining with other services and we wondered if this was where the future might lie.
In the meantime, we busied ourselves finding Peter some board books from the miniaturised children’s library in the small room that is at the moment, Oxford Central Library.