Public Libraries – future community hubs?

Where do men go on Saturday? Good question! In the past, it would have been football matches, golf courses and those ‘of a certain age’ the bowling club. But the public library – come off it!

Well so I thought until visiting my local book lender this Saturday morning. And it was packed out with males; some on laptops, others browsing the newspapers and more online on the library’s PCs. Some were even drinking coffee, looking at the books and nipping out for a quick puff on the now internally banned tobacco.

Now probably the recession requires those out of work to surf the job ads and those in work to study to stay so. Yet the sense of a busy community life about the place, both for  effort and pleasure, was palpable.

But libraries are for books and tatty governmental leaflets surely with the odd notice (in every sense of the word) for the local spiritualists’ meeting. Well, if  this is the purpose which the customers seem to want, don’t knock it. Since it might prevent public libraries,  going the way of the village pub, the parish church and the corner shop.

In fact, with our granulated, home-working, coffee shop meeting business environment, maybe these traditional ‘information centres’ have a future as communuty meeting points, business venues and just hubs for daily life. Evolve or die then in my book.

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A visit to a house from the past

Today we visited the House of Tarvit near Ceres in Fife. A Georgian country house rebuilt by the Sharp family. This family were Dundee jute mill owners who had the original building pulled down and a new house designed Sir Robert Lorimer to house Fredrick Sharps’ art and furniture collection. And so each room depicts a different style from mock baronial to French 18th Century. Yet throughout this beautiful dwelling there were reminders that it was financed probably on the unrelenting labours of others back in the squalor of Dundee’s slums. Also a display gave an idea of the 12 indoor servants wages at today’s prices; even allowing that food and board would be included, it was hardly wage worthy of all its encumbrances.

Sharp was a self-made man who taught himself about the art he collected. In that effort, he was advised by Burrell whose collection graces Glasgow. To some extent their combined thoughts bore fruit as there are some very beautiful Netherlandish oil paintings. Some of these apparently were bought because the show a Dutch form of primitive golf; another the Sharp family passions. However there are truly hideous still lifes covered in dead birds. Proof if any is needed, that wealth cannot buy taste.

The family eventually died out with the Sharp’s son being killed in a train crash and the daughter dying without children. The house then passed into the hands of the National Trust of Scotland where it was used as a hospice for a period. Unfortunately, due to the Trust’s financial woes, it is only open a few days each summer month.