September 23, 2013

Libraries: are they better with wine? Or much, much worse?


Expect more of these mysterious alien markings in your library books.

There is a lot of chatter about new forms and uses for libraries in and out of Library Land these days. The strange part about it is that it’s often framed in abstract, lofty terms: “reinvisioning,” “reimagining” and other appalling “re-” formations. But behind it is the terrifying, entirely non-abstract Lack Of Money, as government budgets for libraries have gotten tighter and tighter.  England has had it especially bad, and there’s no improvement in sight — the president of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, Phil Bradley, told the Guardian recently that:

I don’t think that 2013 is going to be any better than 2012 was to be honest. In fact if anything it’s going to be much worse. The postal lottery of library provision will continue to get worse, with some councils still doing their best to provide a good quality service according to their legal requirement, while other councils will continue to attempt to impose shortsighted cuts on their communities.

Some of the responses to the UK library crisis have been weird pointless reports, or dubious-sounding “leisure trusts” (have two more disturbing words ever been joined? this is truly the velvet pantsuit of privatization euphemisms), or vigorous campaigning by the citizens and communities affected, which are often the places that can least afford the loss of a public service like a library.

Sheffield faces the potential closure of 16 branches later this year, which would mean 75 full-time jobs lost. Faced with such a radical slashing of library locations (it would almost halve the number of libraries in the area) and staff, a range of groups and companies have stepped in with proposals to save the libraries.

And some of those schemes involve wine. That’s right: the almighty grape — formerly kept as far as possible from anything bookish unless you were a Romantic poet — may keep the Sheffield libraries afloat.

The company Forum Café Bars, which owns coffee shops and bars in the Sheffield area, is, according to the Bookseller, “looking at libraries in Hillsborough, Walkley, Woodseats and Ecclesall with a view to creating ‘a wine/bar restaurant incorporating space for a library.'”

Now, the question is, what will this do for libraries? Is it a plus or a minus thing? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

On the one hand, it’s probable that this will lead to more crying in libraries: the combination of literature, Chardonnay, and social-service cuts being a sure bet for tears. Incidents of singing are likely to rise, with an emphasis on ‘90s alt rock anthems and long, drawn-out renditions of “Tears in Heaven.” Messy fighting may occur, but the chance of actual injury is low.

Forum Café should expect certain secrets to come out, such as how I really feel about you and what actually happened at that wedding. This may be reason enough for Forum to invest in some top-of-the-line Pinots, instead of Franzia. On the other hand, given libraries’ historic role as providers of any kind of information to anyone who asks, the Franzia may be appropriate.

Shoes will be removed. There’s a strong chance that some people will be found sleeping in unlikely locations (on the beanbags in the children’s reading area, under the bathroom sink) and will be very hard to rouse: library staff can expect to be told to “just go away, I’m fine, I’m fine, just go.”

Patrons will be found smoking in the stacks: even if you show them the freestanding ashtray by the front door, it’s inevitable that a little cabal or two of smokers will be discovered sitting on the floor in the 600s section, ashing on old chem textbooks. If you point out that they’re a fire hazard, expect grumbling, muttering, the appearance of acquiescence and a move towards the door. But come back ten minutes later, and they’ll still be there.

Several people will also be making out.

Depending on how extensive the bar is and how late it’s open, there should be a fair amount of staggering around and knocking things off shelves later in the night, and if you attempt to kick unruly patrons out and close up, you’ll be met with sullenness and looks of glazed incomprehension.

And there will be headaches. Definitely headaches.

If Forum Café and the citizens of Sheffield are going into this with their eyes open and their brains unbefuddled, I think the inescapable conclusion is that wine = bad for libraries.












Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.