One of my favourite libraries is Exeter Library.
It is not the best library I have been in. The best would be a toss-up between the British Library, the Bodleian Library (both of which I frequented in my quest for an elusive Ph.D in archaeology), the New York Public Library or even that Japanese library I spent part of my childhood in (I forget what it was called). But Exeter Library is the one which I love.
I first joined the library many years ago when I was seven. Twenty-seven years ago! I have read a shocking amount of books because of them.
My earliest memory was when it was called Exeter Central Library and of owning a library card that was practically bulletproof. If you dropped it, it made a sound like a pterodactyl: KKLAK!!! Loved that card so much that when the stamped a hole through the plastic (so I could borrow tapes or videos), it felt like sacrilege.
Another memory is the glass walls. From outside I could see characters, from the land of fiction, painted upon the glass. I recall Spot the Dog and one of the apes from the Anthony Browne books. Visual clickbait for 1980s kids.
Inside I would turn right and walk into the children’s section where I would immediately be drawn towards the rocking horse. A grey dappled horse that begged me to get on and ride into the sunset. God only knows how long they had that horse but I remember being away for years and then coming back … and they still had it! Although I was, by that time, too big to ride it. Stupid tiny rocking horse…
They got rid of the rocking horse years ago. This is why it fails to enter my top 3 of libraries. If you think that is an arbitrary decision, then you must be unaware that rocking horses improve whatever place they are in. This is a fact and cannot be disputed.
Then there was the incentive to read books: the coveted Book Track badge. I went in every day and took out eight books which I would read and bring back the next day. For two and a half weeks, I earned the lesser badges until the day that I got that badge. Then I faffed about reading Asterix books at a leisurely pace. Ah, good times.
I remember reading my way through the adult fiction. Reading at least one story from every author. Took me the best part of two years but only because I tended to read their entire stock of authors if I liked their prose. It is thanks to them, or rather my insatiable appetite for reading, that I discovered writers whom I would never ordinarily have read otherwise.
Recently I recall finding Bram Stoker’s Dracula in the D section. I thought that was either subversive genius or the librarians aren’t being as rigorously trained as they once were. I think the former is more likely.
It seemed that they had a bigger range of books in those halcyon days than they do now. But there is still always someone new to discover (authors I mean, not random members of the public, ahem).
All things change and Exeter Library is one of them. Mostly for the better.