“The Library is a Quiet Place”


When I began writing this blog there were two subjects that I decided I would not write about – my immediate family (who don’t want to be written about, so I don’t) and my work (I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned this before, but I work as a librarian).

I thought, though, that I had better do something to acknowledge today’s national day of action in support of libraries.  Having spent most of the week (and, in a sense, most of the last quarter of a century) agonizing over the effects of reductions in spending on libraries, with more of that to come next week and, I imagine, for the forseeable future, the last thing I feel like doing is continuing the argument at the weekend. 

What I would say is that, if any of you have been involved in actions today, we librarians are very grateful for your support.  I also never cease to marvel at the self-confidence people have when commenting on matters of which – in detail – they have little knowledge  (as, indeed, why should they?), and that this sometimes applies as much to those who are supporting libraries as those who are more relaxed about seeing us run down.

So, I shall approach the subject in my customary crabwise manner.  This is one a series of photographs of abandoned buildings in downtown Detroit taken by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.  If you haven’t seen them already there is a gallery available to view on the Guardian’s website (Detroit in Ruins).  This used to be a public library called St Christopher House.

Coming soon to a town near you?  Well, perhaps …

St Christopher House


And here is a poem by the Serbian-American poet Charles Simic, that seems to go with the picture quite well.  Perhaps Miss Jones is the ghost of a librarian – or simply a redundant one – reluctant to leave her old haunts?

In the Library

There’s a book called
“A Dictionary of Angels.”
No one has opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.

She’s very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.


If you feel moved to hear more from Simic, you could start here – (Simic on Amazon) – or you could, of course, always order it from your local library … which also applies to Marchard and Meffre’s book – (Detroit in Ruins on Amazon). 

For more supportive writings about today’s events see the excellent poetry blog Baroque in Hackney, which I’d recommend anyway for anyone wishing to acquaint – or re-acquaint – themselves with the world of contemporary poetry.  

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