Sunday, April 26, 2009


I have always had a problem with libraries. Don’t misunderstand, I am in complete favour of public and free access to knowledge and learning for all, I just find it so hard to give books back. A book seems to so astutely define the time it took to read it and I am compelled to keep it as a memento of time passed. This selfish, sentimental and ultimately hopeless urge to hold on to time has cost me a small fortune in library fees in the past; consequently I have forbidden myself from using public lending libraries. When I buy books, I make a note of the date and place it was purchased on the first page, and when I have read it I make a note of the date of completion at the back, sometimes adding my opinion for good measure. This kind of practice is quite understandably frowned upon by librarians and worthy library users.

At university libraries, however, the books are usually full of added information and comment in the margins, which is exceptionally useful. Chances are that someone cleverer, infinitely better read and insightful has made their mark around the body of text, thereby providing relevant questions and a critique of the ideas presented in the book itself. The Sydney Jones Library at Liverpool University only has books full of students’ comments; that is if you can find them at all in the Kafkaesque aisles. The Sydney Jones, I believe, only actually contains half of the books its database claims, the rumour being that most of the book spines have no actual content and are only there to perpetuate the illusion of library. The reason being that, due to some architectural error, the Sydney Jones would sink if it weighed any more, this is why there are no new books being bought in, no matter how imperative they may be to a generations’ academic success.

In fact, there is not anything that isn’t strange or awkward about the Sydney Jones, apart from the distinct lack of literature; the heating and lighting are decidedly odd. The Sydney Jones has a central staircase, where the temperature is always above boiling, like some sort of molten core. The outer walls, by the area that is reserved for quiet study, however, are virtually ice capped and literally windswept. As quiet study hardly generates any heat, clothing fit for a polar expedition is recommended. So are earplugs. There is always a gaggle of plump first year students huddled together at the next table discussing the dubious morals of their peers, someone texting with key sound switched on, or someone with a cold sniffling, coughing and blowing their nose whilst noisily sucking on a cough sweet.

In addition to which, the lighting in this area labours under some energy saving scheme, which switches them off after 3 minutes unless there is fervent physical activity taking place; chance would be a fine thing, especially in an area reserved for quiet study. The regular onset of darkness prompts a rather amusing phenomenon though; as each light goes off, the student/s at that table flails their arms around in order to switch the light back on. Sometimes, you are able to bear witness to a silent Mexican wave along the rows of desks. It’s rather poetic actually.

I had forgotten all about these idiosyncrasies until I recently came back to Liverpool University as a PhD student. After I graduated, the Sydney Jones was closed for refurbishment, and I assumed that this closure would have resulted in significant improvements throughout the building. Alas, all that has changed is the entrance, which now sports automatic doors. Which is good, before this change it was impossible to enter or exit the library with less than Herculean stealth and strength, as the doors appeared to be made out of a mixture of led and granite. The foyer now also boasts two men sitting behind a desk, for no apparent reason. They should have just employed them instead of installing the automatic doors, to help fatigued, disabled and weak students to open the bloody doors that were there. Or even more cost efficiently, just put doors made out of lightweight materials in.

I must admit that I really appreciate the aesthetics of the Sydney Jones, the fact that it is so flawed in its design and engineering, making it an uncomfortable and impractical, therefore rendering it the perfect example of modern British architecture. The exterior is reminiscent of a turbine hall at a nuclear plant and the course brown bricks of its cladding are precariously replicated in a glazed variety on the slope leading up to its entrance. The gradient of this incline is probably about 20 degrees and if there is any type of moisture in the air, the smooth surface transforms into a glassy, extremely slippery slide of peril. This dangerous feature is also quite useful in reminding everyone thirsty enough for knowledge to negotiate it, that life is indeed a fragile and very precious thing and that you should have taken your mothers advice and bought a sensible pair of shoes.

I will now concede that I deeply love the Sydney Jones Library at Liverpool University, its ineptitude in yielding any of its promise, its inclement weather conditions within, lighting that could bring about an epileptic fit and the exterior surface underfoot that is not only dangerous, but actually smug, instills within me a deep and heartfelt affection for the place. I love it in the same way I love drinking a flat, tepid vodka and soda at the Aigburth Cricket Club.

Perfection is never beautiful, it is only ever perfect.

Mia Tagg 2009®

No comments:

Post a Comment