I work at Didsbury library, which is a site library at MMU and in a few weeks we will be closing our doors for good, as the entire site is shutting down. We are moving to the large All Saints library on the main campus and the departments will move to the new Birley site, forming one mega campus. Map here. More info here.
The closing down of the library is earth-shatteringly heart breaking and it’s a wonder we don’t just spend our days sobbing at our desks. I’ve not even been here a year and I feel utterly wretched, like I’m channelling a character from Mallory Towers who’s been whacked with a hockey stick too many times and all my jolliness has leaked out. Indeed, we are eating our unhappiness in the form of cake, biscuits and ouzo flavoured Turkish delight. If there is anything edible within the building we will find it and we will consume it.
For the staff who have worked here for decades across the whole site, I can only imagine how awful this is. Some people have lost their jobs or retired, but all the library staff are secure for now. Except me (someone hire me please.) The library will be bunking up in the same space as the current library so it’s going to be a tight squeeze. I will be a student there in September so I’m looking forward to making lots of snotty remarks about not being able to find a PC, talking loudly in the silent zone and leaving crisps and old socks in books.
At this time of year, the library seems so empty anyway and most students just want to pay off their final balance, return the last straggling books and then leave forever. There is a definite sense of finality and farewells in the air and every other week we are doing some task or routine for the last time.
Under this cloud of doom, it is morbidly interesting to see how a library is moved. As of today there are 30 working days to go and, apart from some empty shelves, the library kind of looks the same. Except all the cake and people rending their clothes in despair…
The move has been planned intricately on the highest of levels and so I don’t get to see just how much work has gone into this or how long it has taken.
We have been withdrawing items from our main collection – my hands have been stained red with the blood of hundreds of dying books* – and as such I think I have a touch of melodramatic hysteria.
Each person has been given a section and a corresponding list of titles that have not been taken out in a certain number of years. If these are not on reading lists or former reference copies, they have been withdrawn and sent off to be sold or given to charity. This is good (not that anything can ever be good ever again) because nothing is thrown away. And we did get to pick any that we wanted, although when you’re withdrawing ancient textbooks the charm of freebies does dim a little. The books we are keeping need to move to the big library. A company has packed up the Dewey numbers that we don’t really use but have left the core text books for all our courses. These will be moved in the next few weeks as all the courses eventually come to an end. This has been a right ole pain in the arse, as sometimes you don’t know what book is where and it can be tempting to just stick it up your jumper and go and cry in the toilets. Eating some cake of course.
Almost all the printers have gone now, we just have a sad old semi-broken B&W one left. So obviously it’s not all been smooth sailing, as we need more than one printer for the next month or so and at least a colour one at that. In other not-so-good news, staff in our wonderful close-knit team will be separated across offices, departments and managers, and will be facing uncertain roles and futures. At our site library people have a lot of responsibility and in all likelihood they will see their areas of expertise cast away from them. I know we are lucky that library staff keep their jobs and that there still is a library here at all, unlike in the public sector – but it is still an entirely wretched business.
We do get to have some ace parties and I think some former staff that people haven’t seen for years are going to come along. I mean, I have no idea who these random people are but I’m sure they will be lovely. Soon we’re having a party on a barge. Yes that’s right, on a mother fugging BARGE. It could easily be made into a one off BBC drama – Librarians on the Lock. Not sure exactly how a lock works, I just remember Pippin the dog doing a special about them – or was that this episode (symbolic of what is happening to our library, eh.)
My old school closed down** a couple of years ago and I went for a tour last summer. It was weirdly cathartic, especially all the smells; I will never catch a whiff of the sweaty old carpet in the languages corridor or the waxy pea smell of the hall. It was like a ghost ship; old shoes, worksheets, textbooks, hats just abandoned willy nilly. So when I look around the library and wonder what will happen, how can we ever empty the whole place out, I remember that there will probably be odds and sods scattered about the place for a good while yet. So now please excuse me, I am going to the second floor to commit the stench of dissertation desperation to memory.
* i.e. ink from the withdrawals stamp
**the one where I infamously had to wear a bottle green bowtie for five years, case in point: