Memories _Poplar Library

I discovered Poplar Library when I was about ten, in 1959. I took every book on nature and on science out of the children’s section in Poplar Library. The Library was only a hundred yards away from where we lived, housed inside an end of terrace shop unit.  I could run there without crossing a single road.  The children’s section was tiny, and the adults not much bigger.  The books were new and pristine.   The shelves were lovingly stocked with Enid Blyton, Richmal Compton and Frank Richards. 

When it first opened we rushed to the Library and were given forms for our parents to sign.   We ran back, with the forms signed and we were given our tickets; we could chose one book each. Our books were stamped with the return date (two weeks later) and we were told that if we brought them back late we would have to pay a fine.  We hurried home, read them, swopped them, and read the swaps. We then rushed back to the Library only to be told that we were not allowed to bring books back on the day we took them out.

This was frustration indeed; there were literally dozens of books there-some with pictures, some without a single picture.  At home we could only afford to have three or four books each, but here was a treasure indeed.

Poplar Library was an official sort of place. A benevolent Council solemnly told its people to report any sightings of the Colorado potato beetle.  I resolved that I would. There was another poster reminding about late fines. The rest was books and more books.

For us children going to the library was a craze. Although the craze wore off after a while, and my friends found other crazes to pursue I still kept going there.

I spent many lovely hours in the Library, reading and choosing books, smelling the polished oak shelves, and sorting through the trolley where the books returned that day were put, in case I missed something that I had not seen on the shelves.  I saw old men reading newspapers in the library, and old ladies clutching romantic novels.

I walked past the Library thirty years later.  Of course it was smaller-it had shrunk even more than these things usually do after such a lapse of time.  It was scruffy.  The civic pride engendered by the doing of good works for the working classes had been replaced by slogans, political complaints and dirt.       The polished oak shelves were scratched and dull.  The Library was no longer an oasis in a desert of the world, no longer a place you could visit to escape.  Instead it was a place of the world, a place where you went to find your way around the world, to discover your rights, to sign petitions, to retrograde into some lost culture of yesterday, half remembered and imperfectly performed.

The Library was not for escaping from the material grubby political world, and not for study to enable you to put distance between you and your environment.  There were posters proclaiming workers rights lesbians rights and black rights.  There were  local pavement users associations and local neighbourhood events.  There were slogans of a political nature, and just plain slogans.  Library users were entitled, whereas in my youth I had the distinct feeling that the Librarians only tolerated the users, who made life harder by disordering the logic of the books.

But I still saw grey haired men carefully reading newspapers, and old ladies clutching romantic novels.

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