The Library of Unrequited Love

By Sophie Divray

(Or perhaps more ‘An Ode to Balbriggan Library’)

I confess that as I begin to write this I still haven’t read this thin novella. I slipped it into my handbag this morning as an excuse. I needed an excuse to write about libraries. This blog has been mostly about bookshops and book buying addictions, but of course libraries also have a special place in my heart. Unfortunately I am living far away from my local library right now.

I am writing this because of some news I saw posted on Facebook stating that the Balbriggan library would be moved from its current and longstanding location in the heart of the town. Sure, there will still be a library, but it won’t be the same. Sure, the beautiful Carnegie building will still remain, but it will be a shell without a soul.

As a Skerries-born-turned-Balbriggan-resident-in-exile I have a natural instinct to prefer most things in Skerries to those in Balbriggan, but the library was an exception. It is the shining light of the town. The plan is to relocate the dole office there. Are they trying to say something about the town and its aspirations?

I joined Skerries library when I was in second class, took out the standard three books and dutifully read the first two. But there was no spark. The third I ignored. And ignored. Finally my mother made me read one chapter a night. So I did that until it was no longer a chore and I wanted to continue. I read aloud to my younger sister. I read to myself. That was ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and lo and behold I had fallen in love with reading. I returned it to the library 3 months late and got a severe talking to by the librarian. I vaguely remember returning a book equally late another time and paying something like £1.11 as a fine. I much preferred paying the fine.

I can’t remember when or why we first started going to Balbriggan library (we weren’t exactly faithful to one library at a time. I remember going to Swords and the Ilac at various stages of my childhood). Maybe I was scared of the Skerries librarian; maybe the books I wanted were never there. (My later visits to Skerries library were all for German lessons with the fantastic and formidable Frau Harbison). I couldn’t tell you, but for whatever reason we went along and opened accounts in Balbriggan. All of us. You could take out 3 books each, so that meant we could take out 21 books at a time. My youngest sister was a few weeks old when she was signed up for a library account and then that limit was raised to 24. I read a fair amount now, but I devoured books when I was in school.

I really loved the library itself. Of course I was never in the boring downstairs section. It was all about the upstairs and if you were lucky there would be space to sit with a book in the turret and pretend you were a princess. Ah no, I’m only saying that now. I’m sure by the time I started going there I was already too old for that. It seemed to be much more interesting to be an orphan a la Anne of Green Gables.

In 6th class when I got a proper grown up bike I was regularly cycling back and forth to Balbriggan, returning a few, taking a few more and renewing the ones we hadn’t got around to reading. Sometimes it would be a chore, but usually it would be a delight to start the shelf search again and discover new treasures. To me at that time Balbriggan was only 3 things – the library, Quinnsworth and my aunt’s house.

After a few years of absence I moved to Balbriggan when I was 25. In between I’d been studying and working and travelling and it was the time when everybody was buying and Balbriggan seemed as good a place as any. It felt strange at first to be living in this place so near to home and at the same time so unknown to me. The library was my rock, it had been expanded and done up, but was still in the beautiful and familiar redbrick building. I was studying for my accountancy exams, so became a regular at the desks and saw that I was not the only one cramming in the lead up. After a certain amount of time studying I would always  succumb to the charms of all of those shelves of books and learnt to my delight that I could now take out 10 at a time.

However, between studying, rehearsals, any kind of social life and of course a full time job, I just wasn’t able to get through all of those books as quickly as I could as a child. I always felt bad handing a book back unread, but sometimes I just had to admit defeat. I’d hand over my pile of books with a guilty look on my face: ‘Ummm, I, eh, think there might be something owing on these.’ To which the reply would inevitably be something along the lines of  ‘You do realise you can renew these by phone or even online?’ Move with the times!

Before moving to Spain I had to settle my accounts. I had renewed on multiple occasions a super short book called ‘Address Unknown’ A very apt title for a book which had gone awol. So, if anybody comes across this book supposedly the property of Balbriggan Library, well, it now belongs to me. It is a story told entirely in letters between a Jewish art dealer in America and his friend in Germany in the early 1930s. It is such a short book but so effective.

For those of you in Balbriggan, there is a meeting tonight in the Milestone at 8pm.

For those like myself, who are far away, but hoping to stop this move, please sign the petition here:

https://www.change.org/petitions/balbriggan-and-north-county-dublin-residents-stop-the-move

There is also a Facebook page here:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fingal-Council-moving-Balbriggan-library/250256341816500

I suppose I’d better pay lip service to the, um, ‘subject’ of this post. I did finish it yesterday evening. It’s not much longer than Address Unknown actually. It is written in the form of a monologue, a type of rant of a librarian who arrives early at work to find a man who was locked in overnight. The man isn’t important. He is just the rantee. This lady seems to be the stereotypical old style librarian, the spinster with no life outside of the library. She tried to be a teacher and failed. She would love to work in the history section but has to make do with Geography and Town Planning. She is in love with one of the regulars, but he has only spoken to her once. She doesn’t go on holidays, because she can read about anywhere and everywhere in a book. I thought I was bad!

Well, I don’t think we are supposed to take it all too seriously. It’s an enjoyable read and I would be interested in hearing what any librarians themselves think of it.

If I think too much about all the books I haven’t read, then I could quite easily stop reading altogether….if I think of it too much. What is the point of reading such a small number of what is out there; you will never have read enough. ‘Let’s say you read two books a week for fifty years. In your lifetime, you’ll have read how many? Five thousand? That’s nothing!’

One sentence, to sum it up: ‘The Library is the place where the greatest solidarity between humans takes place.’  At this point in the book the man must have laughed, as our heroine has to tell him she is being serious. I believe it’s quite true. It’s something you can see in Balbriggan any day and such an important amenity should not be shunted out of its home on a whim. I hope the residents of Balbriggan stand together in solidarity to oppose this move.

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