But there were detective stories on the home bookshelves as well. When a superior friend, not an aunt, disapproved of the popular detective stories, Olive said, "You can't live on caviare all the time. Caviare is alright but you'd soon get sick of it every day." So the ordinary fare was the meat and vegetables of story books and thick-ear yarns, with caviare available on the menu.

At Tollington School I found the same attitude to books. There was a lending library in a tiny square room at the top of the old stairs, crammed with books and looking more like a broom cupboard than anything else. Teachers borrowed alongside the boys. Masses of detective pulp and adventure stories jostled for shelf room with good modern novels and classics, in alphabetical order. The librarian had no wish to segregate or indeed to educate' in the narrow sense. Eng. Lit. could be left to the classroom. Here you read books because you wanted to do so and because the story line was strong. When the new art deco library was opened in Muswell Hill Broadway, in 1932,35 books became even easier to obtain and I learnt to order books from other libraries. I had heard of Pamela, by Richardson, but knew nothing about the book. It was not on the shelves, so I asked the Librarian, who said, "You could order it," showed me how to fill in an order card and charged a penny for the stamp. A week later the card came back through the post saying that the book had arrived, the first of hundreds, perhaps even thousands I have ordered in a lifetime. Next day I took in the card and, to my bewilderment, was given a four-volume presentation copy of Pamela, in heavy boards, quarter bound in red leather, standing eight inches thick on the counter, and weighing about fourteen pounds. It was beautifully printed in 12 point type, with enormous margins: a magnificent library edition, but not convenient for reading in bed. All for a penny. That was public library service at its best.

Unfortunately, during the last few years the appearance of the library has deteriorated badly. It is difficult today to realise what a very beautiful building the Library was when it was first opened. A revelation and a landmark. From the outside one can still appreciate the sophisticated detailing of the brickwork in its carefully contrasting colours. The pilasters and string courses light red and the rest darker, both set against Portland Stone dressings. The careful detailing and good bricklaying make it a most satisfying building.


The New Branch Library, Muswell Hill,
Mr W.H.Adams, E.R.I.B.A. Borough Engineer and Surveyor
The Builder, 25 November 1932.25th

 

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