A Nice Little Earner

In which The Author comes up with a new revenue stream for his local authority

In 400 Blows I told you what happened last time I exchanged a casual comment with a stranger in Aberdare Library. Malcolm the Cynon Bore is here again today, but since I was extremely rude to him a few weeks ago he seems to have realised I don’t want to talk to him. It was approaching the submission deadline for The Men Who Marched Away, and I simply didn’t have time to listen to another of his self-obsessed monologues. I very firmly told him as much, and he’s studiously ignored me ever since. (More’s the pity, eh?)
Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice? Exactly the same thing has happened today, just behind the table where I’m sitting. Two pensioners (1M, 1F, as they say in the theatre) were sitting in silence, reading the daily papers. The Cynon Bore was using the computer. Judith was at the main desk. I was sitting at the little table by the microfilm readers. There was nobody else here. All was calm, all was bright.
Then the old man finished his paper and offered it to the old(-ish) lady. It was a simple kind gesture to a fellow human being. Unfortunately of the rest of us, she took as an invitation to chat. They were at it for at least twenty minutes before he made his excuses and left. From where I’m sitting I heard it all: a seamless litany of complaints about local public transport, the public service cutbacks (closure of day centres and reduction of Winter Fuel Allowance, amongst other things), the poor quality food in a town centre café, the lack of library provision in the Rhondda…
Well, you get the picture, I’m sure. After she’d stopped moaning about everything and anything, he spent a long time telling her about the food in St Mair’s Day Centre. What a sweet picture they must have made. Of course it’s nice to see a couple of strangers making friends and having a conversation, especially at their time of life – but there’s a time and place. I’m fairly sure that the Reference Library isn’t the place, especially when the aforementioned St Mair’s Day Centre is only a couple of minutes’ hobble on a Zimmer Frame.
We’ve already lost a substantial proportion of our ‘Central’ Library as it is, as I told you in A Turn-Out For the Books and elsewhere. New book buying has been limited pretty much to trashy fiction, formulaic US crime novels and chick-lit. Meanwhile, the Reference Library has been reduced to accepting charitable donations (see The Gift of Words.) The wifi is hit-and-miss much of the time. The precious few public access computers are a magnet for Loteks, ASBO-fodder from the Jokecentre, and Family History Bores (oh look, there’s Malcolm again!)
Furthermore, for at least two mornings and two afternoons a week, the majority of the Reference Library isn’t even available to the public at all. It’s occupied by Adult Education classes who were chucked out of their usual venue(s) when the local authority sold off the buildings for a song. Nobody else can get a look in. To cap it all, it’s now become a drop-in centre for old people who just want a pleasant chat.
In Silence in the Library I recalled the good old days when conversations above a whisper were quickly extinguished by the staff. In 2014 it’s well-nigh impossible to do any serious research in here, given the paucity of materials on offer. For two days a week you can write off any access to the stacks, unless you want to interrupt the classes going on in the main area. When there’s a loud conversation going on just behind you, it’s practically impossible to concentrate. You might as well go and sit on the benches at Junkie Corner, where it’s quieter and you stand a better chance of being left alone.
Given that Aberdare Library is becoming little more that a social centre with some books and computers, here’s a business proposition for Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC: close St Mair’s Day Centre and transfer its entire operation into the Library. It’s directly on the bus route, so the old folk won’t have to walk far to get here. The kids’ and teenage sections would be ideally suited for conversion to a kitchen. The lending section would make a perfect canteen, with a few bookcases dotted here and there for old times’ sake. As for the Reference room – well, it’s already got some comfy armchairs and the daily papers. A few more armchairs dotted around would cater for the increased numbers coming into the new Day Centre. The remaining books could be sold off to raise much-needed revenue, and everyone’s happy. Finally, add a large screen TV, with the volume turned up to 11 and permanently tuned to Bargain Hunt, and the job’s a good ‘un.
Naturally, the whole thing would have to be put out to competitive tender, so RCTCBC could recoup a nice sum in rental and business rates from the successful bidder. The Chamber of Trade would kick up a fuss at first – especially given that there’s a relatively new coffee shop just opposite the main entrance – but nobody else in Aberdare seems to care about what they think anyway. Then the St Mair’s site could be sold off for new housing, along with everything else in the RCTCBC property portfolio. What’s not to like?
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