WHEN I was a girl – and I've been here ever since our good Queen Elizabeth came to the throne, so even I have to admit that wasn't yesterday – going to the library was a weekly event.
That, of course, was in the days when children and teenagers read books. The young smarty-pants among you might well remark we had nothing much else to do in those days. If by that you think I mean we had no computers, no e-mail, no MSN messenger, no internet, no mobile phones, no XBoxes and no online gaming, you would be absolutely right. We didn't even have MP3 players. High technology then amounted to a transistor radio the size of a brick.
The library was where you could borrow books you couldn't afford to buy but wanted to read. Bear in mind that we were motivated by sheer entertainment.
In those days, primary school kids didn't need to borrow library books to deliver class "projects" on Japan, the environment, or planetary exploration. We learned to spell, to count, to write, to recite dates of battles and to sew; any books we needed for those things we borrowed.
Pathetic as it may sound, if we wanted to know what life was like in Tokyo, or how man was getting on in his quest to reach the moon, it was to satisfy our own curiosity. It was fun the way we filled our leisure time. The library was like a big, free toyshop, because in those days, children's books were considered to be toys – gifts we got for Christmas and birthdays.
That's probably why we were prepared to put up with the fusty, church-like, disciplined atmosphere of the library. There were signs ordering silence so nobody spoke except to the librarian, and then only in a whisper. If you made a noise pulling a chair back or dragging open the library catalogue drawer, heads turned to look at you accusingly. I'm happy to say that libraries have changed a lot since then. Children are positively welcomed and often treated to "story time", occasionally by visiting authors.
There are bean bags and tiny little chairs to fit tiny little bottoms. There are computers and CDs and the approachable librarians are more likely to be wearing friendly attire such as jeans and jumpers, rather than tweed skirts and frosty, high-necked blouses. It's all good stuff.
Now things are poised to go even further with thousands of pounds being spent on Libraries4U, a project designed to make libraries more relevant and appealing to teenagers who, in certain parts of the city, are causing disorder, running riot between the bookshelves and smashing up the toilets.
In this new-style library, teenagers can chill out, play computer games, learn to make movies and relax in their own dedicated area. Naturally I have no objection to any of that, except that it should take place somewhere else – perhaps a community centre or a youth club.
It seems to me quite unjust that well-behaved, adult library users who have already been subjected to the odious behaviour of little neds ruining their literary oasis, should now have to witness whole swathes of their library being handed over to the very people who should have been banned. "Oooh! You can't ban them!" squeal the do-gooders. "We need to engage them and turn their energies to productive use."
Anybody who gets his kicks from smashing up toilets, bursting in to meetings and causing so much trouble as to drive out other users, isn't suddenly going to turn over a new leaf because you redesign the library especially for them. The only lesson there is – it pays to behave like a yob!
A library is a library, a place where everyone can access information, borrow books, read in peace and expand their mind without running an expensive tab at Waterstones. Teenagers who behave are welcome.
But pandering to their exclusive whims at the expense of others – especially when those whims don't include actually reading books – isn't preserving libraries and making sure they keep up with the times; it's destroying the very thing that makes the library a refuge and comfort for so many people.
No fleas on them
I HAVE one thing to say to the First ScotRail guard who refused to let a blind man and his dog travel on a train because the dog "might have fleas" – and it's this: have you seen the rest of your passengers?
Dogs – especially guide dogs – don't bring foul-smelling burgers on the train to stuff their faces.
They don't vomit up their own body weight in lager and they don't have irritating conversations on mobile phones. They also usually manage to hold their water rather than peeing all over the floor in the toilet.
I wouldn't bank on them being statistically more likely to have fleas than humans either. There's only one suitable place for a dog on a train, and that's in First Class.