The Library Quest
It suddenly occurred to me that I’d neglected the libraries in my own city for well over 10 years and that I’d not been to a library (accepting the NYPL in Bryant Park, Manhattan) for very many years. I have very early memories of visits to the library as a child, and less happy memories of trying to find answers to my prep schools “Christmas Quiz” set by the headmaster at the town library when I was about 12.
As a student at college of Further Education, I’d almost exclusively hung out in the Library there, not much enjoying the crowd in the canteen and other social areas. There was something really pleasant about the library at my college of FE and it was my go to hangout. This was in the very early 1990s, so I don’t recall them having very much in the way of computers. They did have a couple of Macintosh computers as I recall, and I do remember trying to search through a database of old newspapers on a computer somehow.
I was at University between 1994 and 1999 and in the earlier part of that time there weren’t any computers at all at the library. Later that was a good place to get online in the early days of the internet. As I recall my university built a brand new library building about halfway through my time at that institution. It’s completely possibly that it was about this time that I stopped using libraries in favour of using the web. I suspect that this is true of a lot of people my age.
I did have a short dalliance with the library when I tried to do some research on the history of a building I was working in. I came to the Nottingham City Central Library which has a good archive of city newspapers on microfiche. I remember finding that pretty exciting, looking through old newspapers that weren’t available online. I also at that time visited the Trent Water Authority archive at Nottingham University Kings Meadow campus and looking through a number of ledgers, minute books and brochures there. Also I visited the Nottinghamshire County Council Archives to look at land records and books of receipts. I would say that it is worth taking a deeper dive than you can online sometimes, just to remind you how much information really is out there and not digitised. We get so used to simply Googling for an answer I think we forget that the world is much richer than just that information we can Google.
So to my library quest. I’ve been ignoring the library as a thing. Possibly even trying to reinvent it with my hackerspaces work perhaps. I love my city, and it is high time I go and use the libraries in my city, especially the smaller branch libraries. I think I’d be very sad if they were all gone as I am sure many have disappeared. My initial reconnoiter of the library landscape as it is in the Nottingham City area (the area that I live) is good. There are 15 libraries including the main central library. They also run a service at the local prison but I have no plan to visit that one at this time.
The plan is to visit each library and see how it is, how easy it is to work on my own stuff on my own laptop. I might try logging into a computer at the place itself and some other tests and explorations. I will try and engage in library life and record it in my blog.
Why am I doing this? I feel strongly that hackerspaces and libraries have allied missions, that are at least adjacent if not on the very same pathway. I am interested in what the future holds for libraries and know that as someone who is at face value, an advocate of the library, that I’ve not really done anything to show I value you them, such as use them let alone visit or support them.
I suppose, in my darkest moments I’ve even paid lip service to the idea like that of Forbes contributor Chris Worstall “Close the libraries & buy everyone a kindle" where an argument is made that libraries are expensive and giving everyone a kindle and access to a huge number of ebooks instead makes economic sense. However it can also be argued that this is simply a miss understanding of WHAT a library is for. I suspect the time when it is for books is over and now it because a space for helping and sharing. An important part of what Eric klinenberg calls our social infrastructure in his book Palaces for the People.
I’d welcome suggestions of things you’d like to know about, questions to answer and even quests within the quest. I’d also like to get an understanding if my suspicion that most of never get to the library these days is true? I certainly loved going to the library as a child.
My local city libraries have a clubs, even one that does the Tea Ceremony, games mornings and other things. I'm not 100% sure I'm wanting to go all Louis Theroux on this project just yet. I'm going to visit the buildings rather than the events and such, that’ll be quite a commitment for a starter.
I do not see this as a tangent from my hackerspace related writing, which will continue, interspersed with these Library Quest blog posts.
Today’s thumbnail is my library card.