I have spent time recently walking the streets of my village delivering leaflets to persuade householders to object to new homes going on our precious green belt land.
Thankfully my nimby tendencies do not extend to all new builds. Around 18 months ago, it was announced that a new library was to go on the site of the eyesore Broad Marsh car park which has been demolished.
I welcomed the news with trepidation. After all, the city council allowed the Central Library and Contact Centre with its ugly corporate green façade and functional design. I had never felt at home there. I regularly use Ruddington Library, another disappointing modern box, the ugliest building in the village.
This passion for books has been with me all my life.
The tiny Mapperley library was my first one. My mum explained to me once that one of the reasons she made true friends of books was because she was an only child. But it us a truism that you are never alone with a book. I fell in love with Mapperley library. I never owned many books but read all the time. I used to walk to school reading, in the same way that people these days walk along staring at their phones. Crucially the library was close to my home and school.
I remember the feeling of joy when they increased the number of books you could borrow from 6 to 12. The excitement when I moved from borrowing books for children to ‘young adult’. I was even named after a Mapperley librarian called Pamela.
Studying for A levels meant getting the bus into town to find academic books at the central library which in the 1960s was the glorious Gothic building in Shakespeare Street. Now part of Nottingham Trent Uni, it is like walking into a church or an Oxford college. Stone steps and looking up you saw gables, arches and pinnacles to inspire.
I went to college in Birmingham and the central library there was modern and brutalist and concrete, the place Prince Charles famously said looked like “a place where books are incinerated, not kept”.
In recent years libraries has seen a resurgence and all our major cities have celebrated the culture of books. Liverpool’s was built around its old circular reading room, Birmingham’s new one is a modern wonder and was visited by two million people visited in 2014.
And I was heartened to read that architects Faulkner Browns have won the contract to build Nottingham’s library. They build the ambitious National Centre for the Written Word in South Shields. It will look nothing like the box in Angel Row.
I have no doubt the new library will inevitably be a ‘hub’, that noisy story sessions are encouraged and there will be banks of computers. But the books will outnumber them all.
Nottingham author DH Lawrence was inspired by the old library in Shakespeare Street to mention it in his novel The Rainbow. We need a statement building, one we can all be proud of.
Whatever you do, call it a library.
* First published in the Nottingham Post July 2 2019