22 JULY 1995, Page 39

Half life

Lewd in the library

Carole Morin

That new hippie of architectural criti- cism, Prince Charles, has described the £450 million yet-to-open British Library in Euston Road as 'an academy for secret policemen'.

Smiling security guards dressed inappro- priately in woolly jumpers policed this year's summer party, reminding guests — and future readers — that King's Cross is the territory of pimps, junkies, hookers and bad-tempered commuters. This urgent urban atmosphere is somehow appropriate for a national library in a new century. Inside, Sandy Wilson's clean, serene, recep- tion hall could be the waiting-room for Heaven, if it wasn't full of lively librarians drinking champagne and eating quails' eggs.

A rabid woman wearing a Marks and Spencer's tie-dyed frock made a beeline for me as I swallowed some snacks, demanding, 'Do you think this site compares favourably to the Round Reading Room?' Generally, only queer hawks talk to people they don't know at parties. Interesting people already have friends. But I'd hate to be so narrow- minded that I think in generalisations. After all, I had no idea that so many librarians are lushes — rather than the frigid frumps of stereotype. 'I've never been to the Round Reading Room,' I confessed. 'That's the problem,' the tie-dye librarian said, 'libraries just aren't sexy.' Unfortunately my local library on Marylebone Road attracts the Regent's Park overspill and is too sexy. The last thing you want to see when you're looking up your own book on the computer is a couple of teenagers tongueing each other behind the video display. 'Libraries should be renamed Information Super Highways,' my new friend insisted. 'That would get people going.'

'Right,' I said, accepting a champagne refill from the Third World waitress in the frilly apron. 'Excuse me,' the lady librarian said, 'I just feel passionately about this.'

A lot of people feel passionate about libraries. There is something thrilling about being in the presence of a large collection of books even if, like Demi Moore, you are 'insecure to the point of being afraid of books, of borrowing the wrong book.' Los- ing a library provokes outrage in both book junkies and occasional borrowers. Intellec- tual insecurity is such a deep-rooted unspo- ken fear it perversely encourages the #urvival of books. It's acceptable to admit being nervous about your looks, but most people aren't as forthcoming as Demi about their fear of books. People who don't see the point of reading still sign the pro-library petitions along with everybody else.

Libraries make excellent alibis. The Stir- ling Library in Glasgow used to be my alibi whenever I wanted to go out alone. Maddie always gave me a pious smile when I asked for permission to visit, pleased my wee developing brain was eager for knowledge. Most days I did go there and gaze at the art books, but one day instead I went into Lewis's and stole a pelmet. It seemed like a challenge, taking something bigger than me that was miles from the door.

When the store detective walked me home, I said to Maddie, 'Sorry mummy, I didn't manage to get the pell-mell and this man's mad at you.'

'She's seen too much Oliver Twist,' Mad- die explained to the nice detective, who thought we were a right pair of hawks. 'Any- way,' Maddie went on, looking guilty even though she wasn't, 'why would anyone want a pelmet? They're dead dated. I asked her to get me the latest Cathy Cookson out of the library.'