There are less than hushed whispers in the library world. In fact, you can hear the chatter way back in the zoology section. Things be a-changing, you see. Libraries are getting sexed up. No longer are they the exclusive reserve of those who wish to browse, flirt, read and study in quiet.
And London’s houses of lending are leading the way. You will soon be able to get a latte with your Larkin in Hillingdon, where Starbucks have been invited to open branches. In fact, since a refit last year, Ruislip’s Manor Farm library has reported a 500% increase in visitor numbers and a 365% increase in book lending. In Camden they are contemplating offering Mario Kart alongside Mario Puzo, and have already begun moves to permit crisp munching and mobile nattering in the aisles. And in Whitechapel they are doing away with traditional nomenclature altogether – the word library has been replaced with ‘The Ideas Store’ (best imagined enunciated in a booming North Atlantic accent). In Peckham Library there is so much going on it is really quite hard to find the books.
Many traditionalists bemoan this dumbing down. Hey, Londonist loves the ambience of a proper library, where dust hangs in shafts of sunlight and you can hear the bloke opposite’s stomach rumble, and where the erudite aloofness of the librarian is perhaps iconic, if terrifying. At CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Librarian and Information Professionals) opinion seems to be split: whilst there is a lament at the slide in popularity of the classics, despair at the rise in management speak and a gnashing of teeth at the rate at which Gillian McKeith flies off the shelves, the need to move with the times and offer modern (yoof-friendly), comfortable facilities is recognised. Many libraries have already shut, and the rest are living on borrowers’ time.
Londonist says bring it on. Give us brownies with our Bulghakov, and let us text in betwixt the rise and the fall of Rome. Just keep a quiet room, where you can hear a Londonist badge drop, for those that really really do like the quiet. And please – no more ‘Idea Stores’.
Dusty books from Nic's events' flickr stream under the Creative Commons Licence.