Sunday 21 July 2019

They can take away libraries - but not my right to read

This woman's life: Rita Ann Higgins

As well as helping to educate us, libraries are part of the fibre of our society that enhances positive mental health. Stock photo: Getty
As well as helping to educate us, libraries are part of the fibre of our society that enhances positive mental health. Stock photo: Getty

Rita Ann Higgins

There is new department in the bowels of city hall called The Asinine By-laws Department. A banjo of new by-laws is in the making - they have the same appeal as a rusty bucket in a clump of briars. By the time it gets its Capital of Culture crown, Galway will have morphed into a police state.

No tree or shrub climbing. How do you climb a shrub? No fence, railing or wall climbing in a park or open space. No cycling, no skateboards, no rollerblades in a park or open space.

No citizen shall play football in an open space - better to do it indoors and wreck the Capodimonte figurines granny brought back from the Congo.

No flower plucking with or without a pheasant plucker's son, not even one flower or you could face conviction and a fine of up to €1,900.

No pet owner shall be allowed to let their dog have a run without its leash at anytime of the day or night. Council staff will be given the power to implement this orthodoxy. These by-laws are against nature, against children and against living. To add to the outrage experienced by the gongoozlers of a sultry evening, there is now a whiff of Gulag in the air.

Next they'll introduce a meter for clocking up flatulence. The more you exude, the more you pay. Nearly all of the colourful murals that gave Galway the apocryphal sense that is was a place of welcome for artists have been painted over in a dour distemper cat's melaka grey. One department commissions and pays for a mural, another department (probably just next door) threatens legal action if the mural isn't painted over in jig time. As was the case recently regarding the mural on the former Taaffe's shop front.

Lacuna, so called because she fell into the San Andreas Fault during a Pokémon hunt. The dazzle from her lucky bag earrings was seen from space.

She was swooned upon and saved by a drone that was arsing around on its half-day. She said they had a consignment of wine tinnies with my name on them.

I told her I'd have nothing to do with wine out of a tin. She said out the side of her mouth, "It wasn't that long ago that you'd drink it out of a slop-out-bucket in Galway's A&E department". I was tempted to release the Kraken on her but I am saving him for the round-up after Galway days of by-law implementation has kicked in.

There is another nasty coming down the tracks from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. It's called Open Libraries Pilot Service. It's another name for getting rid of library staff and will allow people to come in and swipe a bar-coded plastic card and not have any contact with another human.

How much is this hare-brained scheme saving the Government? Did anyone do research into how it is impacting on people working in libraries? It has been rolled out in Tullamore, Banagher and Tubercurry and it is coming to a place near you soon. Sadly, Sligo town library is already set to close.

A visit to the library and an interaction with a member of staff can be life-saving for a person who lives on their own. As well as helping to educate us, libraries are part of the fibre of our society that enhances positive mental health. Some genius wants to change the name from Open Library Service to the Oprah-style title, My Open Library. It will be My Open Library with no staff to offer a kind word or make a suggestion about a book or help you log on to the internet or help you by just being there.

Next thing you know you'll only be able to get Mass via Skype and you'll only be able to get a Mass card signed with a digital certificate borrowed from Revenue. Your plenary indulgence will land in your inbox aided by a background chorus of 'Winner winner chicken dinner'.

In the report about the pilot projects it states that there were very few antisocial incidents and those were of a very minor nature. What does that even mean? Are we back to flatulence again? The spin is that this hare-brained scheme does not affect staffing levels. Balderdash. Surely the whole psychology behind it is to cut costs by getting rid of library staff.

Staffless libraries could prove to be a dangerous place for vulnerable members of society. There will be no toilet access during staffless library hours as this is an area that cannot be monitored by CCTV. Oh, but don't worry, you can dial an emergency number if someone sticks a knife in your ear, but not if you live in Offaly, there you ring a security firm.

I'm sure there is a duty of care to our citizens that is not being adhered to with this ill-considered scheme.

I might see reading as a gift and a privilege, because it gives me so much pleasure and for me it's the best learning tool. It should be neither, it should be a right. Your right, my right, our children's and grandchildren's right. John McGahern said, "I see reading and writing as completely related, one almost couldn't exist without the other." You can almost hear his voice saying that.

A few weeks ago, I was asked by Ruth Webster of Books Upstairs in Dublin's D'Olier Street, if I would sign a copy of Tongulish for a customer of theirs who lives in the States.

She had forgotten to ask me when I read there earlier in the year. I signed the book and sent it to her and today in the post I received from Ruth a gift of a book of literary essays called The Fun Stuff and Other Essays by James Wood.

The essays range in subject from a homage to Keith Moon to Sebald's Austerlitz to essays about the brilliant Marilynne Robinson and Lydia Davis (of Flash Fiction fame.) I find essays are a great way to find out about writers.

Note to self: Tell daughter to leave the twins in the cupboard and not be coming down around me, I'm reading essays today.

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