Tag Archives: study

The wonders of a library in Tooting

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Tooting Library 2006

Tooting Library in 2006 - it's been completely revamped since then

For as long as I can remember, I have had difficulty concentrating, to the extent that libraries are the only reason I have ever achieved anything. It doesn’t matter how much space I have at home, or how much time and opportunity I have, when I need to concentrate and get any kind of mental work done, I have to go to a library. I’ll buy a day membership to a University library, travel for more than an hour, do anything just for the peace and concentration it affords.  The quality of work I do in libraries is so much better than anywhere else, that I have vivid memories of what I read and when, going back decades.

I’m in between courses, so whereas for the last couple of years I could have taken myself to the Institute of Education library, I’m now without anywhere to work.  After two years of having an oasis in the middle of Bloomsbury to work in, I’m lost. So on Saturday, I went to Tooting Library, knowing that they have a wonderful quiet study area upstairs. It was the most useful and enjoyable two hours work I’ve done in weeks.

The reason I’m blogging about this is because since the threats to library services started last year, I find myself arguing with people (middle class employed people, by the way) about why we need to keep them.  They talk vaguely about ‘everything being digital’ and ‘you can get it all online’ and ‘books are dead’ or reduce the argument to idiotic in the classic sense:  ‘they never have anything I want’ or ‘it was closed when I went’.

To reduce the concept of a library to a repository of books is to miss the point, in my view. On Saturday, the study room and IT facilities were full. People were having to book slots and come back later to use the computers (and there are a good number of them). All the seats in the study area were taken. There were a lot of young people, and a lot of old people, and a very broad ethnic mix. A lot of them, like me, had gone there to study, some had gone to read the newspapers. I was so grateful for the quiet, but also for the encouragement you get when you’re in a place where everyone else is trying to do the same thing (people say they go to the gym for the same reason, even though they could work out at home).

As Sadiq Khan pointed out in his open letter to Edward Lister of Wandsworth Council in February about library closures in Wandsworth:

Popularity and utility cannot only be measured by the number of books issued in any given year – there is a wider social benefit to a community that comes from the local provision of good IT facilities, or a quiet place for children to do homework.

Well said. It’s not just children either. At a time when more and more people are losing jobs, having to retrain, competing for an ever smaller number of jobs, and have less and less disposable income, libraries are a lifeline. When councillors think they can turn off this particular service, I wonder if they understand it at all, or even know what value it has in their own communities. It is particularly important if the government, as it claims, wants to get young people into work. You have to support that kind of initiative with places to study.

Given the wonderful service that libraries and librarians offer (I don’t think anybody’s put it better than Philip Pullman in his speech about library closures), I find it disgusting that anyone should suggest that volunteers are the answer. I know a number of librarians, and I am trying to envisage how they and I would feel when some financially independent do-gooder turns up at the library and turfs them out of their means of employment, as if their knowledge, experience and education, let alone their need for a job, was insignificant.

Surely before we go down that route, there is an option for some kind of light-touch membership system. If people will pay to go to the gym or belong to the National Trust, can they not pay something to use a library? Keep it free for students, the unemployed, the retired and those on benefits, but offer membership options.  The trouble is that sadly, not enough people are convinced that they’re worth fighting for.

 

 

 

In praise of record cards

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Photo of index card box

My index cards. Not throwing them away just yet.

I was on the point of throwing away two boxes of index cards that, if I’m honest, I have rarely used. One of them I have had since 1997. I bought it because I needed some way of learning lots of new vocabulary when I started work in a German theatre. The other I’ve had since 2008 when I started my MA.  Does anyone really need record cards any more, given the enormous amount of amazing technology (most of which I use) that replaces them? I love and am reliant on Zotero, and I am a new convert to Scrivener and I’ll  make a database at the drop of a hat. So what’s the point in record cards?  I have hardly opened these boxes since I started them.

Well, the point is, as I’ve discovered, that record cards encourage me to write things down and catalogue them as I find them, and to start a card for any concept, person or phenonenon that is new to me. The card index becomes an aide-memoire for all the things that I find difficult or interesting. Looking through the cards now, I find that I had forgotten most of it.

When I was on the point of throwing the cards away, my rationale was ‘I haven’t looked at these, so they can’t be that important’. But card after card reminded me of things that I once knew, things that were once very important to me.  One of my favourites was this:

DARWINIAN theory of music” Coined by Subotnik (1987) to mean the theory that the greatest music is what survives. Cf. Leonhard & House 1972:106 “we can rely somewhat on the survival of a piece of Western music as an indication’ of expressive appeal and value”.

As an undergraduate in the days before computers, I did all my revision for exams on record cards, gradually reducing the amount on them until I could remember a whole topic from one keyword.  It never occurred to me to think ‘I guess if it’s important, I’ll remember it’. That would have been, so to speak, a Darwinian theory of learning, and a very stupid one at that.

And as for the Darwinian theory of music (in case there’s any doubt, Subotnik was using the term ironically, whereas Leonhard & House meant it seriously), I’ve been looking everywhere for that quote, but  I couldn’t even remember what the thing was that I was looking for, let alone who wrote it. A routine scout through my record cards reminds me of what I know. Yes, I could do that on a computer, but there’s too much there, and it’s too clever at hiding stuff away that might provide the necessary connections.

So for the moment, Oxfam isn’t getting my card boxes. I don’t know if I’ll keep writing index cards, but I’m certainly going to keep looking through the ones I’ve got.