Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The New National Library

so i'm not sure what i think about having a new national library on Victoria Street, in a fancy modern building with lots of glass. (oh! but i love glass.) the problem really is i love the old building.

it's true, i'll give you that the old building wasn't the best layout for a library: the shelves were close together, the reading rooms were claustrophobic and you really never could find any reference materials you needed anyway. (what shall i do when i no longer have access to university libraries, i wonder? the U of C has spoiled me.) the collection was very often dismal in scope and availability. and like all libraries everywhere, misshelved books and weird hard to find call numbers were the bane of your average library user's life.

however, i'm fond of the old place. i grew up with that place - beginning my library adventures in the Toa Payoh branch of the National Library, i soon moved on to the Central Branch because -well, because it was central, and located next to the large MPH flagship store where i always wanted to go (but couldn't afford to buy anything except food, which we ate there because it allowed us to be in the presence of oh-so-many books, though on the cafe floor it was mostly computer -grimace- books). because it was in town, and in town was always where i wanted to be. (even prior to my crazy shoppping-for-clothes-bags-shoes days i was an urban centre girl) and it was convenient for school, once i started at RGS - research done in late afternoons, not very efficiently, with friends sitting around a giant table trying desperately not to make too much noise or worse -hysterical laughter quickly (but unsuccessfully, at least for long) quashed by frantic hushing. saturday mornings and early afternoons spent wandering the shelves (almost called them 'stacks' but this is not the Reg) waiting for the parent who had dropped me off 'on the way to work' to come back and pick me up (i used to make mom drive ten minutes out of her way on saturday morning so i could go -lazy me- to the library and not walk from the train station), laden with as many books as the library would let me remove. (four, then briefly, eight, and then four again.)

it's hard to let go of things you remember from childhood - i was furious when they -the National Library Board- changed anything about the library system, whether it was more efficient or not. (ok perhaps i wasn't furious when they put in the automated checkout system, though i liked talking to the librarians as they stamped my books) i really hated it when they put in the pay-fines-via-cashcard thing, because i didn't have a cashcard. my dad pointed out the logical thing to do would be not to accrue any fines, but since when have i been logical when it comes to memory?

but if the new library has a better collection in a better organised building then i am sure my objections will (eventually) fade. and a whole new generation of kids will grow up thinking that libraries have always existed in funky glassy buildings (think the Library@Orchard, for one; when i was a kid no libraries looked like fishbowl/bookstores; or the Library@Esplanade or whatever they call it, which loans DVDs if you have a premium membership -they have a waterfall piece) with huge escalators and non-glaring florescent lighting. it just seems a pity, to me, that the same government which constantly complains about the rootlessness of its young people should constantly find ways to destroy the physical memories that link them, in however fragile ways, to the places and peoples of this country.


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