The library at the moon under water

In Books
November 4, 2009

Some internet rambling recently led me to this – an essay George Orwell wrote about his ideal, platonic perfect pub, The Moon Under Water. Apparently this is where the Moon Under Water chain took its name from, which I didn’t know. I don’t think they follow all his rules anyway! Carraway seed biscuits?

And then yesterday I was interviewed by Mslexia magazine, an excellent publication can highly recommend it. They asked me about my ‘writing day’ and I realised that I’m actually quite superstitious, or ritualistic in my writing-in-a-library practices. [I find a desk, I leave my things at it, I wander the shelves, find a book that I like the look of, take it back to my table, read a few paragraphs and then I’m off.] And also that I have a very good idea of what my ideal platonic library would be. So here we are. The library a few streets over from the Moon Under Water.

1. It should have open shelves, with a good collection of both modern and older books covering all the academic disciplines but with a special emphasis on fiction, poetry and drama of course, and history, classics, psychology, religion and anthropology. There is an excellent collection of medical books, and several shelves of photography. At the Moon Under Water Library, skillful and well-educated librarians have chosen the best of modern works, but haven’t weeded out older books hard. A Victorian edition of Ovid rubs shoulders with a modern commentary. Occasionally one still finds books with the pages uncut.

2. The librarians know what they’re talking about. A reader in trouble can turn up at the front desk and say ‘help, where do I start on Byzantine architecture?’ and they know where to point you. For more esoteric questions, they know who to ask and will take your details and get back to you.

3. There is no cafe in the Moon Under Water library – food smells do not penetrate its halls nor is there any danger of spillages on the books. However, one is permitted to take in a bottle of water and there is a charming refectory in the Moon Under Water university building next door where readers are admitted on presentation of their Moon Under Water library card.

4. The building is large and its bookshelves are serpentine. There are plenty of little corners with a desk next to a tiny window (and next to a power supply and a good light source. Although the library has existed in some form for centuries, it makes sure that every desk is adequately supplied with power and light.) Although there is a large central desk space, it is easy to find a more private area in which to work. The seats are comfortable. They do not, in general, have arms.

5. There is wi-fi, it is fast and easy to access but – and this is important – the password changes every day and must be picked up from a box of small slips on the front desk. Writers completing a manuscript are grateful that they have to make a conscious decision to be able to log on that day.

6. All the members of the library understand that silence is not a forgotten virtue. Any member found conversing on a mobile phone outside the designated ‘conversation area’ on the fourth floor knows that they face immediate expulsion.

7. The library is open every day from 8am to midnight. The loan period is typically three months. Loans can be renewed online, reservations can be made online, you will receive an email when your book is in.

8. Although the library allows some leeway to its members – and the members are in general completely trustworthy – those who are found to ‘reserve’ a desk at busy times by placing a jacket over the chair and then go for a three-hour lunch will be sternly reprimanded. However, this reprimand rarely has to be issued – the miracle of the library is that there always seems to be a quiet desk for those who need it. There are also a number of private lockable carrel rooms – big enough for a desk and a chair – which can be rented by those who want them for a minimal charge. There is a waiting list, but progress along it is brisk.

9. The library is a part of the community, with a noticeboard and an interesting speakers’ programme in the evenings. It also has an excellent children’s library – well-stocked, with an array of storytellers, reading times, beanbags for lounging and toys for the not-reading-yet children to play with. The children’s library and the speaker’s area are soundproofed.

10. I’m amazed I didn’t mention this first. The library is beautiful. The proportions of the rooms are elegant, the desk-spaces simple and workmanlike but with a grace to them. Even though the library is extremely easily accessible from north-west London (it only takes me 20 minutes to get there from my house) it has glorious views of rolling countryside. How lucky I am to work there.

Sigh. If only if only.

[picture stolen from the Trinity College Library, Dublin website]

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