The Arts section of today’s Courier-Mail contained an article lauding the relocated, revamped and renamed CBD branch of the Brisbane City Council Library. Brisbane Square Library is spread across three floors of a brand-new building and fitted out with all the high-tech mod cons like tv screens, vending machines, video games, and all new furniture. It’s got a fully-automated returns system, research specialists to help you find the answer to any and all questions, and is so popular that borrowing has gone up by 39%.
What the article forgot to say is that the former Central City Library has lost about 90% of its charm.
I suppose it doesn’t help that the new building is an eyesore. The bottom floors are housed in four parallel rectangles of different lengths that have been compared to Lego blocks due to their brightly-coloured cladding: Royal blue, yellow, orange, and an awful green of a shade somewhere between Kermit and Astroturf. It doesn’t compare well to the turn-of-the-last-century elegance of the Treasury Casino next door. It looks a lot better from the inside, and the new library is very sleek and modern. The floors are linked by escalators; the computers are lined up along benches of gleaming white laminate before moulded plastic chairs set on pedestals; the bookcases are bracketed between lightboxes fronted with semi-transparent plastic that comes in a different colour for each section (useful as I can’t yet tell one side of the building from the other).
But there’s no personality left. Without a Returns desk, there’s no librarian beside the door to say hello when you walk in. The old cubbyhole desks and wooden tables, with their scratches and worn edges and graffiti, have gone. So have the comfy mismatched chairs that were frayed in patches and starting to reveal their foam padding. The recent returns are filed neatly by genre on pristine white shelves instead of being piled haphazard on battered metal trolleys. With the vast increase in floorspace, the cozy feel of Central City has vanished.
It’s not all bad news. They’ve finally realised that once people take books home they may well read them with glass or fork in hand, so food is now allowed in the library. Now I won’t have to pack up all my stuff just to grab lunch. A bigger library means more chance of actually being able to find a seat. And I’m young enough to find delivering my returns onto a conveyor belt amusing.I know that in time the dozens of identical cushioned chairs will wear and fade like their predecessors, but the plastic and laminate will remain much the same. I’ll adapt, but visiting the library will never be quite the same.