The New Stockton Library – My Thoughts…

Today was the eagerly anticipated re-opening of Stockton Library. I’ve been waiting since February when the £1.9 million refurbishment started. Just to give a bit of background, Stockton Library has played an important role for almost all of my life. (Mum made sure we were members of a handful of libraries in the North East, as we were here, there and everywhere. We had at least twenty library books in the house or car at any one time.) It’s a place where I’ve spent many an hour or full afternoon scanning the shelves with quiet excitement and stuffing my arms with books, printing off my ‘newest novel’ to send to Bloomsbury or rooting through the rejects on the for sale trolley. Its where I did revision for college to get away from the noise at home, or research on a writing project. Its where Mum used to bring us to while away an hour or two, before we could pick Dad up from work, or where we’d take refuge during a hectic Riverside Festival. Sure, it didn’t smell great and drunks would fall asleep on outsized books about the Great Plains Indians, but it was a good, proper library, where you could bring your book to an actual desk and have it stamped by a person. It wasn’t that noisy either. Everything was easy to locate and the shelves were tough and hard-wearing. It was always dusk . Light was never able to creep in properly. But that didn’t matter, I found it quite pleasant actually.

I arrived this morning to a glossy, stylish new place with loads of light and a fresh, new smell. In less than thirty seconds I had been asked if I was alright and if I needed any help. I’ve never had that happen in a library before. It felt wrong, as if I’d wandered into Ann Summers, Lush or the Body Shop where they pounce on you the second you walk through the door.  I was like a startled deer, muttered no thanks and darted away. I can understand why they were offering help, but I like to find things out for myself.

There didn’t seem to be enough books. Especially not enough fiction, which was just crammed together on a swervy shelf with no indication as to who was where. The teenage section with these ‘cool’ lounge chairs, was…one odd, impractical shelf  with loads of weird angles and books primarily by Stephanie Meyer. The large cafe area was heaving and beside it sat lots and lots of computers, as well as a lot of wasted space. My last annoyance to mention are the self-service kiosks. Service with a smile from a book loving librarian no longer exists. From now on, you have your books checked out by a machine. This disturbs me. A lot. A machine can’t tell you what a great book you are about to jump into, or tell you more about the authors work or complain about the rain. A machine like this, just alienates us from each other all the more.

Communication with actual human beings is lessening in every way possible. In Asda, they refuse to put people on the tills because the customers ‘need to learn’ how to use the self service checkouts. I feel sad that our libraries are now going the same way. Old people go to their local libraries to engage, even if it is only for a few moments with the ‘nice lady behind the desk,’ and now they are being herded towards these unfamiliar machines that they’d rather not have to deal with. Don’t get me wrong, technology is a fabulous thing, I love it and will be publishing some up and coming work online using Amazon, but why fix something that isn’t broken? It’s because we want everything to be done now, now, now. Time is more precious than it has ever been, apparently. We need to be quick all the time! But, this new library is better than no library. For many, there is no turning back from this new new era of technological living. So take a breath and prepare to be dunked.

Some good news though, I managed to get a handful of books out, including: