I was thinking just a few weeks ago about heading over to the library, stealing some quiet time for myself. I thought maybe I’d hide away in a corner somewhere and just have a good think. I’ve done that a lot over the years. I’ve written parts of poetry collections and novels in the Kingston Public Library. Hell, I probably should have written the place into the acknowledgements when those books were published, because it was surely responsible for some of the end results. It’s been good to me, in other words, and to my kids as well, who are regulars.
I never signed out many books, which I know is one of the points of going to a library, but that’s only because I tend to fetishize the damn things. I buy them from Oscar down at Novel Idea and stack them up in a great leaning pile next to the bed. Sometimes I even read them. And I will regularly, nearly daily, pause at the bookshelf top of the stairs at home to just run a finger down their spines (it feels as good as it sounds).
So yeah, books are important to me, and libraries too. Some of my most persistent memories of childhood are of standing before the shelves in Blackbird Leys, and if you asked me, I reckon I could map out that library I haven’t visited in forty years better than the house I grew up in.
But I haven’t been there as much in recent times. This real estate business keeps me busy and (sadly) there’s less time for idle daydreaming / brainstorming. There’s less time for writing poetry, and for reading; less time to simply sit there, in a big window, in a warm room, figuring stuff out.
And maybe that’s just as well. Because it strikes me that unshaven and also maybe unshowered as I was on that recent afternoon when a few hours opened up, and when I had no real plan other than to muse on some of the bigger questions while I scratched at my half-in beard, or to plot a brilliant and happy-making poem set among the granite erratics of Battersea, I might not have found much of a welcome down on Johnson St, given the bullshit new Code of Conduct the library Board has put together.
No more “sitting or standing idly about”, or “lingering aimlessly”, or hauling your sorry ass inside at all if you or your bags stink. “Limit the belongings you regularly bring to the library”, it reads in part. Most telling of all is that the library’s Code begins now with “Welcome to the Kingston Frontenac Public Library” rather than the old “Everyone is Welcome at the … Library.”
Now I get that implementation of the new Code has been suspended. But as far as I can tell, the sentiment still holds sway with many in those big publicly funded rooms, and there’s been no cancellation, so it’s still important to have an indignant go at this exclusionary nonsense.
Because that’s what it boils down to: not everyone is welcome at the library any more. In other words, if it’s deemed possible by library staff that you are there to get warm rather than to read, or if it looks like you’re just there so as to feel safe for a while, or a little less burdened by what it means to be alive in this city with no money and no place to call home, then the staff reserves the right to ask you to leave. They reserve the right to evict you from the library, that supposed sanctuary, precisely because you have no other place to go, and maybe because you also smell.
The absurdity in that policy, the barbarism written so plainly into its clotted prose, is pretty horrifying. But it’s justifiable, the Code writers have decided, because to let the unwashed remain might make those much more secure, card-carrying members of our society feel less … comfortable.
(If this were radio, this is when you’d hear me smashing my head against the wall, or running around clutching my head and groaning.)
I think and hope that I don’t have to say much more. My feelings about this madness are pretty plain. I’ll leave you with this: If I were to go to the library tomorrow and read this little rant out loud, peppered as it is with “shit” and also “bullshit”, which is much worse, I’d expect to be thrown out for disturbing the peace. I’d argue my right to free speech, sure, but swearing your face off in the reading room is really pushing your luck. I can read this shit outside, after all. But if the woman who asks me to quiet down and mind my manners is also thrown out, just because she’s been wandering around aimlessly in Non-Fiction for twenty minutes with her shopping bags, then something has gone very badly wrong.