September was never a favourite month. To be honest, the pop song lyric, “wake me up when September ends” would have captured the mood of the first month of autumn. The summer was past, Christmas was a very distant prospect, the days were getting shorter and the weather was growing colder. There seemed little about September that might lift the sense of impending greyness.
Then there came a September when the mood was changed.
Attending lectures at the Anglican theological college in Bristol meant staying in the beautiful college buildings and having access to its library. The library was reached through the entrance hall of the college. While the outer doors of the college were locked at night, anyone inside the building might use the library at whatever hour they wished.
The sky outside had been dark for sometime and the last users of the library had gone to their rooms, or to their homes. Opening the door and turning on a light, stepping into the oak panelled rooms and walking among the shelves, there was a moment of pure delight. I remember running my fingers across the spines of the books, countless numbers of them.
When such a library existed, then the world seemed a place different from that which filled the television screens during news broadcasts. No matter the season or conditions beyond its walls, the library was constant in its life-affirming nature.
Libraries can be a place to retreat from all that is going on outside; a place to sit down and think about all that is going on; a place that you leave feeling in a very different frame of mind from when you went in.
There are happy memories of visits to Saint Deiniol’s Library in the Welsh village of Hawarden west of Chester. Rebranded as Gladstone’s Library after its founder, it is a residential library. Days spent reading are followed by meals in the refectory and conversations in the drawing room. Perhaps it was the contrast between being at the library and working in a parish, the stays there were always a memorable time.
In the city of Worcester, the public library and the university library are integrated in a single building, striking because of its copper cladding. Open from 8.30 am until 10 pm, seven days a week, it is a place of vast delight. There seem to be miles of shelves and countless books calling to be read.
On a damp, dark night in January, it was a place of complete escape from the world outside.
“Have you not joined yet?” asked a member of the staff.