2010 marks one hundred and twenty five years of Darlington Library being open to the public. Recently I've been looking for a photograph of the Reference Room that documents how I remember it. This one was taken in the late sixties.
Today the room is a monstrous page torn from an Ikea catalogue, with only the original architecture and the shelving in place. Very modern, well, at least for the next five years. Earlier this month just a few footsteps from where that shot was snapped, I met our Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. She read the pro-bumble poem 'Virgil's Bees', perfectly punctuated by the rhythm of motorbikes buzzing by outside. A reminder of how fields of wild flowers have now become road.
A surprisingly good turn out crammed into the junior section of the library between its bright shelves. I sat on a folding metal chair from the seventies (which was probably once just as desirable and 'modern' as our new furniture next door in the reading room - take note Darlington Borough Council) and waited for the room to clear.
Good memories in there. Countless nursery books. Books on Egypt, Mexico and the Victorians. The first time I heard Adrian Mole speak. That's when I remembered. There used to be a stuffed polar bear stood at the doorway of the reading room. More than twice my height, paws raised and bloody terrific. Did the librarian once tell me his name was Fred? Fred, with your leather padded paws, Do Not Touch sign and yellowing fur. Where have you gone?
Insult to injury, two inane computers now sit in his place, screens spasmodically winking welcome messages in Comic Sans, all primary colours and quiet exclamation. Darlington Library: please stop this. Mice do not inspire me. Polar bears do.