Plymouth Central Library is relocating. Today will be the last day it opens those particular doors to the public. And as I sit here in the old stacks one last time*, I am filled with deep nostalgic sadness.
We go back, this old building and I. Practically back to my first few months in Plymouth when I was naught more than a disillusioned teenager trying to find my feet in my newly independent world**. Initially, I went with an associate in my University course*** trying to find a reference book for an essay, all copies of which had been checked out of the Uni library for weeks, and thus had a waiting list you could march a parade on. Rumour had it, the public library had a few non-lending editions on their stacks. So, we hopped in her car, and went searching.
I didn’t really start using the Library until my final year of Uni, when I lived almost opposite in my studio flat. During the days of not being able to afford the heating, it became a sanctuary of warmth and study, with a quiet room which saw the creation of a significant portion of my dissertation. After Uni, when I lived in my basement room at the noisy centre of the basement, it then saw the crafting of several creative experiments and ghostwriting projects. There is not a corner of the stacks I haven’t hunkered down in at some point, either hunched over a table scribbling or with my nose in fiction. Over my penniless days, I participated in free film screenings^ and book sales, just grateful these things are open and available for impoverished writers with dreams of greatness^^.
There are many memories of my youthful days locked away among the stacks in that building, and while I know the Library is moving not closing, I feel like I am saying goodbye to an old reliable grandmother.
I understand the relocation. If libraries are to thrive in the modern world, they need to adapt to modern standards. The new building is more central, and completely open-plan, leaving behind the rustic, academic atmosphere which, I suppose, can be intimidating to non-academics who just want a place to read and relax^*. Concerns I had about the move have been waylaid by researching what is to become of the now shell in which the library was housed. The plan is to convert the space into part of the History Centre with support from the Museum next door, with ideas of introducing better heritage resources for the community. And the new library appears to have everything its predecessor had, except in a more open and colourful environment.
The only fear I haven’t managed to quell through understanding is what might happen to the stain-glass window. The window on the main stairwell of the library entryway depicts an array of literary figures in the style similar to what you might find in a cathedral, and I have coveted it and been awed by it since I first laid eyes on it.Unfortunately, I’m not sure if they’ll somehow transport the glass over to the new building, maybe incorporate it into the internal decor, but I hope so, and if not, I shall miss it.
Tonight the lights of the library will go off for the last time. The books will be boxed up and moved, and the stacks will be empty, and the quiet room will suddenly be silent in a way that was never intended. For now, here I sit*^, sadder than I thought I would be, staring round at the old familiar rooms, like sitting in a spot of endless time, where all the past and present mes^^* are together feeling and growing in this place in a single moment.
I walked around one last time, remembering. I sat at the last table in the reference room, where I perched many times poised at the keyboard, and I touched the old wood of the shelves, I took out some books and returned some others, just like all those times all those days ago.
I said goodbye to an old friend.
*I really did pen this upstairs in the study room, but I did so the previous Friday to the date of publication. For the sake of drama you can pretend I’m there on the final day of opening, maybe the last to leave those huge studded front doors, a tear wistfully rolling down my cheek, a bittersweet song of memory playing in the background.
**I was not a pretty picture back then by any means.
***Not Creative Writing at the time. This was the year I was trying to make my parents proud by choosing a career path which wouldn’t land me in a box in a dark alley warming myself over a burning kerosene barrel. My mother was genuinely concerned writing would lead to harder drugs, like following my whimsy or joining a circus. Of course, she meant well, and she is actually pretty proud of me now I think.
^Including The Hobbit and Les Miserables, two films based on books which I have read, both of which I borrowed from that library, and both I was pleased I didn’t spend a ton of money attempting to see at the cinema.
^^That was a very youthful ideal; to be honest I think I would’ve been happy with just getting off the ground.
^*And that is the point of the library. Much as the old timey academic ambiance suits serious study, it goes over a lot better if the environment is welcoming to everyone, especially children, and conducive to finding joy in reading and books.
*^ Again, days before. This is beginning to feel like I might have strange time-travelling abilities, but I suppose if I did this wouldn’t be an issue. If anyone out there knows Dr Who, please feel free to point him to this blog. Tell him to come now. I’ll wait….. No, huh? Worth a shot.
^^* Does ‘me’ have a plural? It was either ‘mes’ or ‘mesai’ and the second sounded too Japanese to be right.